100% real maple syrup

Syrup Composite

Real maple syrup. That's what we're talkin' about.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

People are passionate about maple syrup. Take these comments from the AOA crowd in Crystal's post about the best diner breakfasts:

Lfox18 says: "If you need to - charge me more but give me the real maple syrup."

Bob adds: "Pancakes just ain't pancakes without the real maple syrup."

And our favorite by Leigh: "I feel a little odd admitting it...but I actually carry real maple syrup in my purse when going out to breakfast."

Crystal even said within the story: "We can't emphasize enough to every diner out there how gross it is to try and pass off corn syrup as maple syrup. Not the same, not even close!"

We agree.

And this is the time of year when it's made. So in honor of the delicious, sticky, perfect-topping-for-pancakes-and-french toast, we took a visit to the Nightingale Maple Farm in Amsterdam to see how it's done.

Cliff Nightingale runs the maple farm with his wife Sally. They've been in operation for 31 years, but Cliff's been maple sugaring for much longer than that.

As a kid he'd tap the trees in his backyard and bring the sap in to boil. But when his mother's kitchen became a sticky mess, and wallpaper started peeling off the wall, she made him move his operation to an outdoor fireplace.

Now he's got 30 acres of trees, and 11 miles of pipeline.

The pipeline brings the sap to his sugar house, where he spends close to 12 hours a day working during prime sugaring season.

So why does he do it? He says with a chuckle, "At this point, it's what I know how to do." And then adds, "It's fun; it's play for a little boy, but it's play for a big boy, too."

From sap to syrup

Syrup Tap

First, a maple tree must be tapped. That's usually done in mid-February. This year, because it's been so cold, it was done on March 8. Cliff says, "The season starts when the thaw starts." It's better for sap production if there are alternating thaws and freezes for many days in a row.

Syrup Trio

There are different ways to tap a tree. For home tapping, you can just drill a hole into the tree and let the sap drain from a tube into a bucket. Cliff says Native Americans chopped into a maple tree and used a stick to collect sap. On his farm, they use a spout designed to protect the health of the tree to collect the sap, which then gets vacuumed into a holding tank, and then into the sugar house.

Syrup Pipeline Map

They have 11 miles of pipeline going through their thirty acres -- and 2,350 tapholes in trees.

Syrup Reverse Osmosis

The sap then goes through a sterilization and reverse osmosis process to take 3/4 of the water out.

Syrup Tank

From there the condensed sap goes into another tank.

Syrup Evaporator

Then, through gravity, it makes its way to the evaporator.

Syrup Stage1

The sap boils in one part of the machine first at 212 degrees Fahrenheit - the temperature water boils at.

Syrup Step2 Steam

And then it goes into another part of the evaporator where the temperature will reach 218 degrees Fahrenheit -- the point at which it will become syrup.

Syrup Degrees

It was exciting to watch the temperature gauge reach 218. When that happens, the syrup pours out of a faucet and into another tank.

Syrup Brix

Syrup Spout

Cliff uses a hydrometer to test the syrup sweetness. It's measured in brix, an expression of the syrup's sugar content. He's looking for 67% -- if's it more than that percentage, he'll add a little more sap.

Syrup Paste

The syrup then goes through a filtration system to take out the natural minerals that occur in sap. (It looks like maple cream, but don't eat it. "It'll go right through you," says Cliff)

Syrup Canner

At this point the syrup goes into a drum or into the canner.

Syrup Products

And from there, it becomes your favorite maple treat (maple cream and candies require a longer cooking process).

Cliff sells his syrup (Grade A: light, medium, and dark amber; and Grade B), cream, jelly, candy and maple covered nuts on site. Nightingale's Maple Farm is open for retail sale Monday through Saturday 10am - 5pm.

This weekend many of New York's maple farms will be open for tours for New York's maple weekend, including Nightingale. Here's a list of participating farms, sorted by county.

Find It

Nightingale Farms
4888 Jersey Hill Rd
Amsterdam, NY 12010


This gave me a flashback to a field trip I took to a maple sugaring place. I can't remember if it was through school or girlscouts or what, but I remember thinking the process was really cool! Thanks for the refresher.

I did that tour last year, it was very refreshing, a great taste of spring. I recommend the Adirondack Gold Maple Farm (photos) and the Toad Hill Maple Farm (photos), both in Thurman, NY. Some farms may look a bit deserted at first, but just knock on the door :)

Oh yeah, making maple syrup seems like child's play, reverse osmosis and all...

The scientist in me loves this post! Now I want some maple syrup!

And now for some agribusiness/political trivia on NYS maple syrup - in a TU dining out blog post from 2009, Steve Barnes wrote about Chuck Shumer encouraging the use of NYS maple syrup in IHOP's NYS locations:

"New York ‘s senior U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, has asked IHOP to stock New York-made maple syrup in all of its 44 locations in the state, a call prompted by the pancake chain’s recent commitment to use Vermont syrup in its (for now lone) restaurant in the Green Mountain State."

This link contains the full text of Shumer's letter, for you agribusiness/political types: http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/6086/schumer-to-ihop-serve-new-york-maple-syrup/.

We're snooty about our maple syrup around here and we should be it's made from the NorthEast's greatest natural resource - trees.

Very nice story and really appreciate the supporting photos.

ever hear the NPR story on the subject?
what happens when the maples go untapped?
not to be missed!


A friend has tapped 4 or 5 maple trees in our suburban yard for the last several years. He boils up the sap in a huge pot on an outdoor stove, without all the fancy equipment that the pros use. It's hard work, but it's pretty cool to have maple syrup that came from your own trees!

Thank you for the interesting/informative story. It is a great outing to see the trees tapped, dripping nature's goodness into the bucket. Maple syrup is good on just about anything.

Derryx! What did you do to that scientist!? You better let him out!

That NPR story is fantastic! How did I miss it the first time around?

I semi-sorta learned all this fun stuff when I attended the NYS Ranger School in Wanakena (shameless plug for a unique college experience), and I realized then, that I love to eat it a lot more than make it!!

Give me the super dark "for cooking" syrup every single day!! mmmmm

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