Making maple syrup requires a lot of help from family and friends.
Yum. Waking up to the smell of pancakes might be one of life’s finest pleasures. Rolling out of bed and throwing on a pair of slippers as you walk to the kitchen to indulge in a great breakfast. Sitting around the table with your family can make Sunday breakfast seem so great.
What’s better to add to the delicious pancake taste than maple syrup? Not store bought, mass produced maple syrup, but real, locally made, maple syrup.
New York state produces about 20 percent of the maple syrup produced in the United States. With over 200 maple farms in the area it’s easy to find maple syrup made by a local New York farm.
The soil and climate of the state aids in making New York’s maple syrup among the finest in the world. With temperatures staying above freezing during the day, the sap doesn’t freeze and allows it to flow. Combined with native maple trees and rich soil, New York is an ideal place for making maple syrup.
The process of making maple syrup begins in mid-January when farmers begin checking their sap lines to ensure there are no holes chewed through by squirrels or any issues with the equipment. Once this is done, they can begin tapping trees. This is a procedure in which a “tap” is drilled into the tree and connected to a tube known as a sap line. The sap lines intertwine and empty into the sugar house. A sugar house is where the process of turning sap into syrup takes place.
The next step is to send the sap through a reverse osmosis machine. The RO machine removes excess water from the sap leaving it to be between 5 and 6 percent sugar. From the RO machine, the sap is sent into an evaporator. The evaporator boils the sap to remove excess water until the sap reaches 67 percent sugar and becomes known as maple syrup.
The maple syrup is then filtered to remove any particles left from undissolved nutrients in the tree. While these particles are harmless, removing them produces a crystal clear syrup. Before the syrup can be bottled, it must be heated above 180 degrees Fahrenheit, this ensures the syrup will stay sterile while in the container.
While the maple syrup process can be tedious, but for three local farms having a crew of family and friends makes it all worthwhile.
Building from the ground up
Gary Wohlschlegel, co-owner of Wohlschlegel’s Naples Maple Farm in Naples, has been producing maple syrup for about 20 years. Wohlschlegel and his dad were hobby maple producers.
After working at Eastman Kodak for over 29 years, Wohlschlegel decided he wanted to start producing maple syrup again.
In the summer of 2009, Gary and wife Bobbi began building their sugar shack on 43 acres. Gary Wohlschlegel did most of the work himself and within six months the Wohlschlegels were producing maple syrup on their own maple farm.
The Wohlschlegels produce about 1,500 gallons a year depending on the weather. It takes about 50 gallons of sap to yield a single gallon of maple syrup. With 19 miles of sap lines on the Wohlschlelgel’s property it takes a lot of help to run the farm.
Cameron Wohlschlegel, Gary and Bobbi’s son helped on the farm before moving to Montana. He has a degree in forestry resource management and has helped to keep the maple trees in the best condition for his parents.
Their daughter, Caitlin Wohlschlegel, helps out as well. While she’s not busy working for the Agricultural Engineering Services, Caitlin Wohlschlegel can be found helping around the farm or at the farmer’s markets during their “off season.”
Gary Wohlschlegel is happy to have help when it comes to producing syrup.
“A lot of it comes down to family,” he said.
A family tradition
The Maple Tree Inn in Angelica is no stranger to family helping out during maple season. The family owned restaurant opened its doors in 1963 with enough seating for 15 people. Ronald Cartwright had been producing maple syrup since 1933 with his brother Clarence and grandfather Austin.
After two sugar shacks burnt down and Austin Cartwright passed away, Ronald and wife Virginia Cartwright decided to build another sugar shack.
Instead of selling their syrup to Vermont, the Cartwrights decided to open a restaurant where they could make pancakes and sell their syrup.
The Cartwrights had six children, Dale, Brenda, Dewight, Kenny, LaVergne and Rhonda Cartwright. All of them helped out at the restaurant.
Rhonda Cartwright is in charge of cooking the pancakes, a recipe from Ronald Cartwright’s grandmother.
“I have the big grill,” said Rhonda Cartwright. “Sometimes I’ll have 36 pancakes on it at a time!”
A community sugar house
Chuck Winship began producing maple syrup with his father, brother and sister on an Indian Reservation in Salamanca. When he was in junior high, Winship built his own sugar shack and tapped trees on the side of the road.
After graduating college, Winship began working at Xerox. Thirty-three years later, Winship retired and had a few aspirations including flying 757s, owning a sugarbush and driving a combine from Texas to Canada. Unsure of what to do next, Winship took a medical walk in Syracuse.
“I found a boot sole in the woods, a big one and I’ve got big feet,” Winship explained. “I found my soul in the woods.”
As he was leaving the forest, Winship saw a bird fly back into the forest. “My mother loved birds. It was her way of saying get back in there.”
Winship realized he needed to go back to school. He was accepted to Cornell as a graduate student. After graduating, Winship bought a 220-acre farm and fulfilled his dream of owning a sugarbush.
Without help from Winship’s family and friends, Sugarbush Hollow wouldn’t be running. Chuck Winship, his brother Bruce Winship, Ethan Irwin and Joe Schultz have become known as the Maple Men.
Chuck Winship’s children, John Winship and Dori Hopkins, and their families enjoy spending time at Sugarbush Hollow and helping out.
Pam Masterson has been working at Sugarbush Hollow for the last eight years and has become a part of the Sugarbush Hollow family.
Sugarbush Hollow has become known as a community sugar house. While tapping trees last week, Masterson had two friends with her teaching them how to tap a tree.
“They have their own trees at home,” Masterson said. “I’m teaching them so they can make syrup.”
The sugar house boasts a self-serve station where people can buy pure maple syrup while the sugar house isn’t in operation.
Sugarbush Hollow is the site of the Springwater Fiddlers Fair and American Craft Show and educates people on maple syrup during New York’s Maple Weekend.
“Extended family is what makes this place run,” said Chuck Winship.
Maple Weekend is March 16-17 and March 23-24. For more information on local events visit nysmaple.com.