Catskill maple season in full swing

By Joe Moskowitz
It’s maple season. Last year, with exceptionally warm weather in March, it was already over by now. This year, syrup producers still can’t tell if it’s going to be a good or a bad year. It’s all up to the weather, which hasn’t cooperated very much so far this year.

We spoke with four “maple men” about this annual tradition.
The first one was easy to find, Catskill Mountain News Publisher Dick Sanford, who lives in Bloomville. He calls himself a “hobby producer.” So far he has canned nine gallons of syrup. His goal is to make about 12 gallons. In order for the sap to run, the temperature must drop below freezing at night, but warm up into the 40s during the day. For Sanford, and most producers, the conditions have been right for just two “sap runs.” Sanford says making maple syrup is a great hobby. “It’s a season divider,” he says. “The season starts at the tail end of winter and ends at the first blush of spring. There is really nothing else to do outside, other than late-season skiing, during this time of the year,” Sanford went on to say.

Both he and Mike Porter of Margaretville say it’s a great way to get through the “mud season.”
Porter’s goal is to make about 30 gallons of syrup. He taps trees in Margaretville and Dunraven, where it is somewhat warmer than in Bloomville, so he has had four sap runs.

In addition to just having something enjoyable to do, it helps keep a tradition alive. He lives in the village. When people see smoke, it becomes a sugary conclave. People will come by to observe, ask questions and become interested in how the lifeblood of a tree can make a pancake taste great. He will tell you, this hasn’t been a good year, but when the sap has run, it has been great.
Last year he says it took more than 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. This year it takes less than 40 gallons. The average sugar content of sap is two and-one-half percent.
There is science involved in making syrup. Some of it, like sugar content and various boiling temperatures, can be explained.

As for some, like when the sap doesn’t run well when there is a south wind, Porter, a retired science teacher’s only explanation is, “It just is.”

The Hubbell Family of Kelly Corners does it by technology, tradition, and even more tradition. The family has been at it for over 150 years. With family patriarch Bob Hubbell observing the process, his son Rudd Hubbell says they hope to produce 100 gallons of syrup this year, but so far, they have only been able to produce 35 gallons.

If all goes well, they could produce 200 gallons, but that would require two things, the cooperation of the weather and having enough wood with which to boil the sap. These are the two determining factors for many producers. If overnight temperatures rise above freezing on a consistent basis, the trees will bud, and the sap turns milky, and since many use wood to boil the sap, once that’s gone, they are done.

Jody Condon of Millbrook Maple says he is very concerned that once it gets warm enough for the sap to run, it will quickly get too warm. He is doing this to make a living. He and partner, Adam Johnson, have made 125 gallons of syrup. Their goal is 600 to 700 gallons. But he says no matter what, it tastes good this year. It always does.

Local producers are hoping that yesterday’s “sap snow” will extend the season a couple more weeks and allow quantity to catch of with quality.