Maple Taste and Tour Weekend is coming soon.
The 10th annual event allows the curious to visit some of the Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association members.
Sugar makers throughout the region will open their doors to visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 16-17.
Times Observer photo by Rob Andersen
Tapping the tree
Loran Cable prepares a tap on a sugar maple tree. Temperatures this weekend were favorable for flowing sap.
The only Warren County stop on the tour map is Loren Cable's Maple Ridge Farm on Fox Hill Road in Russell. Maple Ridge is part of the tour for the third time.
However, John Whitmire of Scandia will also be ready for visitors. He's participated in the event for the past several years.
"They come and we give them a tour of the sugar house... take them out into the woods and show them our tubing," Whitmire said. "When you get a bunch of people at them they're really fun."
"They want to see how the syrup is made - how the raw material comes in and how we convert it over to the maple syrup," Cable said.
Some of the stops offer full breakfasts. All offer samples of syrup and other maple products.
"We're going to have a little bit of everything - maple candy, maple mustard (like honey mustard), peanuts..." Cable said. "We're going to have some maple cotton candy, which is real good."
He will, of course, have samples of syrup on hand.
Collecting sap and making syrup out of it is heavily dependent on the weather.
"You've gotta have a good freeze-thaw," Whitmire said. "You have to have temperatures in the mid-40s in the day and freeze at night. It has to be back and forth."
"If you stay cold, you don't have any sap," he said. "If you stay above freezing for three or four days and you don't see any freezing in the forecast, you're pretty much done."
The sap has a watery consistency.
"The freeze-thaw forces the sap up and down in the tree," Whitmire said. "It has a lot to do with barometric pressure, also."
He said he has seen trees fill four one-gallon buckets in 12 hours - about double the normal rate - under the right weather conditions. "You come off of a freeze and work into a fairly strong (low-pressure) rainstorm, that will really make some sap."
The weather has not been ideal so far this year.
"So far, we have not had a run yet," Cable said. "It's just been a little bit too cold."
"A lot of guys like to tap right around Presidents Day (or) Valentines Day," he said. "A lot of guys tapped in January (this year)."
Whitmire didn't tap his trees until Friday. But starting late is not his consistent practice.
"Last year I started early and that's what saved my season," Whitmire said.
"It's farming," he said. "You're dealing with Mother Nature. You gotta be able to roll with the punches."
Sugar maples and red maples are the most commonly tapped trees. "Some of the big producers claim your better syrup is a mixture of different maples," Whitmire said.
The producers boil the sap carefully to create syrup. There are four grades of syrup based on color - light amber, medium, grade A dark, and grade B dark.
The darker the syrup, the stronger the flavor. Although the light syrup is generally more expensive, many people prefer the stronger maple flavors of the darker syrups. "It's all personal preference," Whitmire said. "A grade B is really dark. It has a really strong flavor to it. A lot of people prefer that."
"The dark syrup is gaining momentum," Cable said. "The darker the syrup the more maple flavor it has in it."
The tour helps satisfy the visitors' curiosity and brings potential business to the producers.
Except for Cable's Maple Ridge, the stops on the map are mostly in the Albion and Edinboro area of Erie County.
"That would be a nice drive," Cable said.
"A lot of people make a weekend of it," Whitmire said.