Feb 12, 2014 Tami Scott Uncategorized
For most people, Valentine’s Day calls for last minute stops to local flower and candy shops. For others, the holiday is a target date for an entirely different purpose, yet still yields sweet results: maple syrup.
Award-winning author Rich Finzer, who lives about 20 miles outside of Baldwinsville in a small town called Ira, began tapping sap for syrup in 1991. He says the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day is prime time to consider beginning the process because the sun is typically high enough to heat the trees. Bear in mind, though, that if the temperatures fall too low, there is a need to wait.
“This year [the holiday] falls on a weekend, so I won’t start drilling holes until Saturday,” said Finzer, advising folks not to begin just yet if it’s 10 degrees below zero, “because nothing’s gonna happen — you need the higher temperatures and a little bit of that springtime sun to warm up the tree and make the sap begin to flow.”
Another piece of advice: Don’t start this week. In his book, “Maple on Tap,” Finzer wrote a chapter titled, “Start Before you Begin.”
“What I meant by that is it’s going to take you a minimum of six months to get everything together that you’re gonna need,” he said. “So if you wait until the day before Valentine’s Day to start, you’re not going to have syrup. You have to have tools, you have to have someplace to store the sap, you have to have something to cook it down in. You gotta do a lot of prep work first.”
Released in December 2012, “Maple on Tap” won the Benjamin Franklin gold medal award by the Independent Book Publishers Association in May of last year. Finzer’s maple syrup has earned several ribbons in competitions entered at the New York State Fair, as well as the coveted Blue Ribbon in 1995.
“We made the finest medium amber maple syrup in the state of New York,” he said with pride. “Our little ragtag 24-tap operation took on the commercial producers, head-to-head. We whipped them with a fair fight.”
Finzer, for many years, partnered with his friend, the late Paulie Bartkowiak, in making syrup to give to both their family members and friends. Because it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup, the team of two would produce about six gallons each year.
“[Our first year] was a disaster,” Finzer recalled. “We screwed up about everything you could. It was just rookie inexperience. We didn’t know what we were doing. But in 1993, we started to get our arms around things,” and that’s when they began to compete.
Finzer said he doesn’t sell the syrup simply because he doesn’t produce enough. It would have to go through a thorough approval process by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and by the time he’d get through it, he “wouldn’t have any left to eat.”
So, why go through all the fuss when it would be just as easy to buy the same stuff off store shelves? For Finzer, the reasons come easy.
“I enjoy the personal time that comes with doing it myself — it’s homemade,” Finzer said. “The second thing is I just enjoy doing it. I learned the process and I’ve mastered the process. Three, when Paulie (who died three years ago) and I did this, it was just two buddies. When you spend time with a very close friend, don’t tell me that’s not quality time.”
Finzer’s book establishes various ways for people to get from tapping sap to pouring syrup over their pancakes. He lists five methods you can use to tap a tree and collect the sap. He gives several options on what to use to store the sap as well as what to bottle it in. And he lists all the sugaring terminology you need to know in a glossary placed on the first few pages for easy reference.
“It’s written in very simple language with a fair amount of humor,” he said. “[Sugaring] is a lot of fun but it is hard work. If you don’t want to do the work, then here’s what you do — go down to the grocery store, buy some maple syrup, lie to your friends and tell them you made it yourself because it will taste exactly the same. But you won’t have the pride of ownership. You didn’t make it. And it’s not nice to lie to people.”
If you would like to purchase a signed copy of “Maple on Tap,” readers can send a check for $21.55 (the book costs $15.95 plus $5.60 for Priority Mail shipping) to Rich Finzer, 13070 White Cemetery Road, Hannibal, N.Y. 13074. It may also be purchased (sans signature) locally at Wrightway Hardware (corner of Route 48 and Lamson Road), through the publisher, ACRES USA, Amazon.com or through Barnes and Noble.
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Maple syrup made early in the season is very light in color with less flavor. As the color gets darker, the maple flavor becomes stronger.
There are three types of syrup: light, medium and dark amber. What you yield is dependent on variables such as when in the season you can begin tapping, and factors within the boiling process.
You can have as few as three taps to make maple syrup; anything less is not worth the work.
Maple trees shouldn’t be tapped at all unless they are at least 16 inches in diameter. A tree with a 20 inches diameter can hold two taps, 30 inches can hold three.
Maple trees can produce syrup for about 150 years.