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COVID-19 affects maple sugaring season

Brandy Brook Maple Farm and Olde Tyme Winery offers a line of traditional red, white and fruit wines, crafted using its own grapes and fruit (not juice), fermented with its own certified organic maple syrup. (Photo provided)

As I start to write this, it’s raining and 50 degrees outside. Several days of above-freezing nighttime temperatures are in the forecast as well. It appears that the maple sugaring season is quickly coming to an end. Most of the producers that I’ve talked with are saying it’s been an average to good season.

Maple syrup production is dependent on freezing nights and daytime thaws, which causes maple sap to run. Optimum production occurs when nighttime temperatures fall into the mid 20s and daytime temperatures range in the low 40s, preferably with sunny skies. More freeze-thaw days translates to more sap runs, which in turn translates to more syrup being produced. And because snow cover generates radiational cooling at night, accumulated heavy snowfall can prove advantageous should daytime temperatures range a bit warmer than producers would like to see.

The sugar-making season and the weeks thereafter are an extremely important selling period for local producers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted, and may continue to impact, sales into and perhaps beyond the spring and summer seasons.

Many local maple-syrup-producing farm families take part in Maple Weekend, an annual event championed by the New York State Maple Producers Association and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program. Maple Weekend provides opportunities for interested individuals and families across the state to visit one or more of the state’s family-run maple sugaring operations to see firsthand how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

Syrup and confections may be sampled. And once they’ve had a taste, visitors are often anxious to take home what are some of the finest and freshest maple products in the world, all locally produced.

For many producers, the annual Maple Weekend event marks the start of their annual sales. Some producers offer pancake breakfasts at their farms. Others provide maple syrup for pancake breakfast fundraisers that support civic organizations, 4-H clubs and 4-H youth programs, and Future Farmers of America middle and high school agricultural education programs.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of Maple Weekend. However, NYSMPA elected to cancel the event, which was scheduled for March 21-22 and March 28-29 at 187 locations across New York state, long before the state-mandated “stay at home” order, aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, was put into place. NYSMPA wants you to know, however, that member producers will continue to boil sap to make and stock their maple products until the season ends. You can contact many of them directly to place orders by visiting NYSMPA at nysmaple.com and clicking on or tapping the “Buy Local” link. NYSMPA plans to offer a series of open-house events once the danger of COVID-19 contagion has passed.

Please note that many area maple syrup producers bring their goods to local farmers markets, craft shows, and county and state fairs. For some, those sales represent a substantial part of their annual business income. But like many small businesses, if the COVID-19 pandemic continues into the summer and/or fall, many will be facing losses beyond anything they’ve ever experienced.

If you love maple syrup, NYSMPA recommends that you look for and try some of these value-added maple products: maple granulated sugar, maple candy confections, maple cream, maple fudge, maple jelly, maple tea, maple coffee, maple ice cream, maple mustard, maple barbecue sauce and maple-coated almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pretzels and popcorn.

Spotlight on maple wine

Maple syrup can be diluted and fermented to create a pleasant, full-bodied wine with elegant structure and great maple character. And the Cornell Maple Program has been working with undergraduate students to create guidelines for high-quality maple wine production.

But locally, one producer, Brandy Brook Maple Farm and Olde Tyme Winery on Brandy Brook Road in Ellenburg Center, has been offering a line of traditional red, white and fruit wines, crafted using their own grapes and fruit (not juice), fermented with their own certified organic maple syrup for several years. You can select sweet, semi-sweet or dry varieties. To learn more or to order, contact the vintner-proprietors, Joy Herfurth and Allen McDonald, at joyous360@yahoo.com or 518-569-5146.

Spotlight on maple kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black tea and/or green tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria, touted for its probiotic properties and health benefits. It’s believed to have originated in China about 2,000 years ago, but has only recently gained popularity and commercial success in the United States.

Members of the Cornell Maple Program, working at the university’s Arnot Forest Research Center, have been trying to perfect a process for brewing kombucha with maple syrup. According to Ailis Clyne, a maple technician with the Arnot Forest research team, “Results have gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews.”

In an article that appeared in the Maple News last September, Clyne wrote, “We found that several flavors pair really well with maple. Pear Maple Ginger, Maple Chai Spice, and Maple Mango were our most popular flavors, but the possibilities are endless. Even the unflavored version went over very well.”

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