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Hudson River Valley Agriculture: Maple Syrup

TIME : 2016/2/16 15:45:23
Some 4,000 farms cover nearly 20 percent of all land in the Hudson River Valley, producing everything from beef, poultry, milk, and cheese to apples, sweet corn, organic produce, wine, hay, and flowers. Most of the area’s longtime farmers are struggling to make ends meet in the globalized economy. They face a host of challenges, from achieving profitability and resisting development pressure to updating infrastructure and raising public awareness and support for an endangered way of life.

The fluctuating temperatures move tree sap from roots to leaves and back again, allowing the farmer to catch some of the flow without harming the tree.The locavore movement, which continues to gain momentum across the nation, stands to benefit responsible growers in the Hudson River Valley. Community-supported agriculture and “agritourism” activities such as farm tours, tasting rooms, and educational programs, promise a more sustainable future for farmer and community alike.

Small bottles of maple syrup shaped like leaves are for sale at a farmers market table.

Maple syrup for sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. Photo © Alexis Lamster, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Making Maple Syrup

A handful of Hudson River Valley farmers continue to produce real maple syrup the old-fashioned way. They drill holes in hard maple trees, collect the sap that drips out, and boil excess water away in a wood-fired evaporator. The end result is Grade A maple syrup that turns a quick breakfast into a gourmet feast.

Once an off-season income supplement for dairy farms, maple sugarhouses today draw late-season skiers and other visitors for a lesson in culinary science. The process begins in late February or early March, when temperatures climb into the 40s during the day and return to the low 20s at night. For four to six weeks, the fluctuating temperatures move tree sap from roots to leaves and back again, allowing the farmer to catch some of the flow without harming the tree. The most authentic sugarhouses hang aluminum buckets on each trunk to collect the sap, although larger operations have upgraded to plastic pipes in order to speed up the process.

Straight out of the tree, sap runs clear, with just a hint of sweetness. Back in the sugarhouse, the farmer boils the frothy liquid in the long flutes of a steel evaporator, staying up all night long when necessary to finish the day’s harvest. An instrument called a hydrometer measures the specific gravity of the liquid and tells the boiler when the sap has officially reached the distinctive amber color and thickness we associate with the real stuff. It’s a precise and labor-intensive operation—for every 40 gallons of raw sap, a sugarhouse will produce approximately 1 gallon of syrup.

Sugarhouses in the Hudson River Valley

Delaware County

  • Catskill Mountain Maple, 65 Charlie Wood Rd., DeLancey, 607/746-6215
  • Shaver-Hill Maple Farm, Shaver Rd., Harpersfield, 607/652-6792

Greene County

  • Maple Glen Farm, Scribner Hollow Rd., East Jewett, 518/589-5319
  • Maple Hill Farms, 107 C Crapser Rd., Cobleskill, 518/234-4858 or 866/291-8100

Sullivan County

  • Andersen’s Maple Farm, 534 Andersen Rd., Long Eddy, 845/887-4238
  • Muthig Farm, 1036 Muthig Rd., Parksville, 845/292-7838

Ulster County

  • Lyonsville Sugarhouse & Farm, 591 County Rd. 2/Krumville Rd., Kripplebush, 845/687-2518
  • Mountain Dew Maple Products, 351 Samsonville Rd., Kerhonkson, 845/626-3466

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Hudson Valley & the Catskills.