Robert Benner must have been concerned about grocery prices when, admittedly “dirt poor,” he bought an East Setauket farm in 1977.
But at least he got his syrup for free.
Benner, 68, has taken the syrup out of his farm’s maple trees ever since. And, fitting for a retired Northport High School teacher, he also shows others how to do it.
Once a year, in February, Benner and his family -- wife Jean and children Ben, Sam, David and Kirsten -- hold a demonstration day on how to tap maple syrup from trees. It’s a tradition they started more than 20 years ago and continued Saturday.
"It was a winter this year, not a whimper," quipped Benner as he described the process in front of a packed room in the barn.
The Benners get maple from a tree by drilling a hole, then placing a spile (wooden tube) in the hole and letting the maple drip out. It’s a classic technique, as commercial syrup producers use a plastic hose for efficiency.
Once the syrup is collected from the tree it is then boiled to remove all the water. Only then is it ready to be eaten.
The demonstration ended with the syrup being tasted in candy form after it was cooled into molds.
Some were fascinated by the process, like Nancy Russell from Patchogue, who came with her 5-year-old daughter, Emma.
"It was amazing, how it started as a tree and now is candy," said Russell.
For more information, visit www.bennersfarm.com.
Sam Benner, second from left, explains the process of making maple syrup while boiling a vat of maple sap during a maple sugaring open house at Benner's Farm in East Setauket. (Feb. 26, 2011)