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!"
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
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.
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.
They have 11 miles of pipeline going through their thirty acres -- and 2,350 tapholes in trees.
The sap then goes through a sterilization and reverse osmosis process to take 3/4 of the water out.
From there the condensed sap goes into another tank.
Then, through gravity, it makes its way to the evaporator.
The sap boils in one part of the machine first at 212 degrees Fahrenheit - the temperature water boils at.
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.
It was exciting to watch the temperature gauge reach 218. When that happens, the syrup pours out of a faucet and into another tank.
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.
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)
At this point the syrup goes into a drum or into the canner.
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.
4888 Jersey Hill Rd
Amsterdam, NY 12010
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.