Rich Finzer in the process of sugaring outside his home several years ago.
“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.