Looking to sweeten a long and bitter winter? There may be a private sweet shop growing in your yard, producing sugary sap that can be turned into maple syrup.
Maple sugaring, the process that turns out the sticky stuff poured on pancakes and waffles, will be demonstrated this weekend at two farms in Suffolk County. Although generally associated with New England states like Vermont, traditional maple sugaring can be done on Long Island, too. The season here begins in midwinter and continues through late winter.
ABOUT MAPLE SUGAR
Maple sugaring is "very low tech and very easy to do," says Sheryl Brook, Hoyt Farm interpretive specialist. The demos will show how to create homemade syrup using simple tools and techniques that have been around for centuries. Backyard trees such as maples, birch and walnut can be bled for their sweet-tasting sap this time of year, experts say.
And right now, the sap is running and ready to be harvested.
"Every day, the sap runs from the roots out to the tips of the branches in preparation for spring leaf emergence," says Fred Soviero, director of grounds and landscaping at Hofstra University in Hempstead, which is a registered arboretum.
It takes 30 gallons from a sugar maple - the amount of sap that drips from one tree in 30 days - to produce one gallon of syrup.
In Setauket, Bob Benner's Norway maples run 40 or 50 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup. In the beginning of the season, the syrup is purer and tastes more like sugar, while later on, it takes on that dark maple hue and maple taste, he adds.
"Each season [the syrup] tastes different," Benner says. At Benner's Farm, you'll learn the history of maple sugaring, beginning with Indians in the Northeast, who showed early settlers how to collect and boil maple tree sap into sugar. Nowadays, the industry uses plastic tubing instead of buckets to collect the sap. "We show the old wooden bucket, and tell how the American Indians did it. We show all the aspects of historic maple sugaring," Benner says.
He'll let you taste the finished product on especially crispy homemade waffles made from scratch.
In Commack, the Hoyt Farm event combines a history lesson with a hands-on demonstration of tree-tapping and boiling. They'll show you how to tap a tree, and you'll see the sap dripping into a bucket.
"We allow people to taste the sap [which is] 3 percent sugar and 97 percent water," Brook says. They will show how the boiling process works, which also produces maple sugar and maple candy. Visitors can sample maple and walnut syrup.
BEFORE YOU GO
Both are outdoor programs, so dress for the weather. Boots should be worn because this is also mud season on the farm, Benner says.
Maple Sugaring Demonstration
Maple Sugaring Classes
Hoyt Farm Park Preserve:1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, March 7 and March 14. Hoyt Farm Park Preserve, New Highway, Commack, 631-543-7804, smithtowninfo.com/HoytFarm. Cost: $3 a person or $8 a family. Learn two ways to tap trees and make maple syrup.