Time moves slowly in the country, and things look much the same at Watson Family Farms as they did 50 years ago. Forrest Watson makes maple syrup the same way his father did before him, as people have in the Genesee River Valley for hundreds of years.
Maple syrup is a big deal in Livingston County. Our forests are home to an abundance of sugar maples, the tree that produces the sap syrup is made from. Indigenous Americans harvested the sap annually and taught European settlers how to tap the tree and boil the sap into the rich, sweet syrup we still love today.
Sugaring season comes at the tail end of winter, a sweet reward for the days of icy cold. The temperature has to be just right; too cold and the sap won’t run, too warm and the tree will use up the sap opening its leaf buds. We call this perfect time of year “Maple Weekend” when our maple farms open their doors to the public and welcome you behind the scenes to see the magic of harvest.
Boiling the sap once took long, labor-intensive hours and can now be simplified with sap tubes and pressurized boilers - but not at Watson Family Farms. Here, you won’t find any fancy tubing contraptions or expensive syrup boilers. Maple syrup is made the old-fashioned way, sweet and slow. From hanging buckets on the trees for gathering syrup to a late-night boil with a wood-fired evaporator, technology can’t hold a candle to the perfection of nature, and that’s just the way the Watson family likes it.
You can pick up your own Watson Family maple syrup at Mulligan Farm in Avon, New York.
Maple Syrup Know-How
- A sugar maple needs to be at least 40 years old to tap
- It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup
- A maple syrup production farm is called a “sugarbush” or “sugarwood”
- The first written account of maple syrup production comes from 1606
New York State Maple Weekend
Every spring, the New York State Maple Producers Association invites family and friends into their sugarhouses to experience a magical weekend of pure New York maple syrup.
To start with, the smell. Arriving at the farms, you’re greeted with a strong, sweet aroma of boiling sap. But don’t rush off to the fire just yet!
Your visit starts with a venture into the forest to see how the sap is drawn from the trees before heading into the kitchens, where the roaring fire is cooking the sap down into syrup. Remember that incredible smell we mentioned?
Don’t leave without breakfast! Most farms offer an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast during Maple Weekend, so you can enjoy the fruits of last year’s labor, along with blueberries, chocolate chips, and even bacon.
Maple Weekend is one of the first rights of spring and a chance to learn about the rich history of maple syrup in Western New York. This is agri-tourism at its finest - a chance to meet the hardworking people who turn tree sap into an irresistible part of a balanced breakfast.
How Sap is Turned into Maple Syrup
The process starts by drilling a tap hole into a maple tree. A spout is inserted in the hole to direct the sap into a bucket or tubing that sends the sap to a collection tank at the sugar house.
From the bucket or the tubes, the sap is held in storage tanks. Then, the sap is often put through a reverse osmosis machine, which takes a percentage of the water from the sap before boiling.
The evaporation process sends clouds of sweet maple-scented steam billowing from the sugarhouse cupolas and steam stacks. Stainless steel pans sit atop an arch or firebox, where either oil or wood creates an intense fire. As the water in the sap evaporates, the sap thickens. When the temperature in the pan reaches 219 degrees, it’s time to draw off the syrup. It cools and is sent to bottling.
Maple Weekend Must-Do's
- The crunch of the snow underfoot as you explore a forest of active maple trees tapped with spiles
- Trying the sap itself, fresh from the tree
- Learning how to identify mature and immature sugar maple trees (a neat party trick)
- Participating in harvest, bringing full sap buckets back to the kitchen
- Smelling the intoxicating smell of boiling syrup for the first time
- Learning traditional ways of sap harvest and seeing modern improvements
- Eating your weight in pancakes drenched with New York Maple Syrup
Maple Makers in LivCo
2557 Stewart Road
Pavilion, NY 14525
Two Creeks Farm
8278 Kysorville-Byersville Road
Dansville, NY 14437
3236 Telephone Rd
Caledonia, NY 14423
The Stone Shanty
3339 Redmond Road
Nunda, NY 14517
Maple Recipes You'll Need to Try
Chewy Maple Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine wet ingredients in a bowl:
2/3 cup oil
1/2 cup pure NYS maple syrup
1 cup sugar
Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Combine the two mixtures. Roll 1” balls of dough in sugar. Flatten slightly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. When you take them from the oven, they should still be light-colored and almost look undone.
You can also use 1 teaspoon of ginger and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg in addition to the cinnamon & allspice or whatever mixture you like.
Maple Espresso Martini
1.5 oz Woodlawn Distilling Vodka or your favorite choice of vodka
2 oz brewed espresso/strong coffee chilled with three ice cubes
0.5 oz pure NYS maple syrup
Put all three ingredients in a cocktail shaker, along with a handful of ice. Shake. Shake. Shake!
But don’t just shake a little; shake a lot. Pour the drink into a martini glass. When pouring the cocktail into your glass do it swiftly to ensure the foam ends up on top!
Leave a few minutes to fully settle. Finally, garnish with one or two coffee beans.