It's that time of year - when thoughts turn to spring and maple syrup! Enjoy a delicious, fun-filled outing with family and friends right in Cortland County. Head to Cooper Hill Maple Farm during Maple Weekend to experience all things maple!
When you think of upstate New York, never-ending winters, chicken wings, and hard-to-pronounce town names come to mind (Oswegatchie, anyone?), but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the area is brimming with the agricultural history of maple as well.
And there is no better time to learn about all things maple than at the 2019 Maple Weekend, produced by the New York State Maple Producers Association. The annual festival wraps up this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and March 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and gives people an opportunity to learn all about the maple industry.
Over 157 NY maple farms are participating, including Cortland County’s very own, Cooper Hill Maple Farm. Drive right up to their sugar shack on Cooper Hill Road in Marathon to see the process, get a whiff of the delicious smell of maple sap cooking down to syrup and taste the maple products made right on the farm. The family-friendly event will also include a home-cooked breakfast of all you can eat pancakes or waffles on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Cooper Hill Maple is owned and operated by mother and son duo, Sylvia and Steve Boice, and is supported by the remainder of the family that calls Cooper Hill home. The family-run operation opened in Marathon back in 2011 but was once a dairy farm until the decision was made to forge ahead into another agribusiness. Sixty-acres of their 110-acre plot was converted into a maple farm and now they’re milking trees, instead of cows.
“We decided we needed to have a business outside of livestock that was going to be profitable for us to maintain 110-acres in New York,” explained Steve's wife, Christa. “This is a great way to do it since we had the stand of maples already.”
The land was originally bought by Steve’s grandfather and passed down through the years until it landed in his care. Even before the Boice family converted the property into a maple farm, Steve was no stranger to the ins-and-outs of maple sugaring. He recalled early memories of simmering sap with his grandfather in pots and pans over an outdoor fire.
Flash forward to 2019, and his techniques have advanced quite a bit.
“I’ve been making syrup all my life in my backyard. I figured I'd just get bigger equipment, but quickly found out there’s a lot more to this," Steve chuckled. "It’s been enjoyable though."
The farm is now a 2,000 tap operation that offers syrup and a variety of maple products, including granulated sugar, maple coated peanuts, maple cream, and maple candy. Their syrup can be found at local festivals and shops like Ithaca Agway or Hope Lake Lodge, but you can also have their products shipped right to your door.
"Folks will call us to buy and ship out to areas like Arizona where they cannot get maple syrup,” Christa explained. “We ship out a lot to the eastern U.S., as well as California, Alaska, and Hawaii. We’ve also had the syrup go beyond the borders of the U.S. like Singapore which is exciting for us.
HOW THE MAGIC HAPPENS
We’ve all seen the traditional and most iconic way of collecting sap - 4-gallon buckets hanging below each tree tap to collect every sweet drip. The process is very labor-intensive as the buckets need to be gathered and emptied up to once a day.
Cooper Hill Maple took a more modern and convenient approach when the decision was made to expand its operation. Miles and miles of plastic tubing were professionally installed through the wooded areas, creating a web of sap-supplying lines that flows directly to a centralized storage tank at the shack site.
Regardless of how it’s collected, the sap is then boiled to remove water and the sugar is concentrated through evaporation. This process is what raises the sugar content and creates that sweet taste we’ve all come to love on our pancakes. Once the right temperature and appropriate density is reached, the sap is stored in drums and patiently waits until it’s time to be bottled.
TIARAS TO SYRUP TAPS
From tapping trees and checking the lines, everyone in the family plays a role in the business, even the 2019 New York State Maple Queen. The eldest of the three Boice children, Kaitlyn, was awarded the title in January at the New York Maple Producers Winter Conference and will be living up to her name during the coming months.
The 16-year-old will be attending numerous festivals, including the Cortland’s Dairy Parade in June, to promote the maple industry and answer all maple-related questions. The most popular amongst the younger crowd? Do you live in a castle?
“This is my castle,” she answered while waving her hands around the sugar house.
If you and your kids want to meet maple royalty, stop by Hope Lake Lodge on Friday, March 29 between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Take a picture with the Maple Queen before enjoying pure maple cream tastings. She will also be at the First Baptist Church and Peck Memorial Library in Marathon during the CNY Maple Festival (April 6 and 7).
NOT JUST FOR PANCAKES
There are so many magical ways to enjoy maple syrup. On pancakes, French Toast, maple cream, and fudge. Maybe drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, sweeten up your morning coffee or eat a spoonful straight out of the bottle.
Regardless of how you eat it, it’s normal to taste a variety of unusual and distinctive flavors such as caramel, sugar, vanilla, coffee, butter or nuts.The industry has been able to identify over 300 known flavor compounds in pure maple syrup,” Steve explained. "It has everything to do with the DNA of the trees, the soils where they grow and how the sap is processed.”
Examine the syrup’s color to determine its flavor intensity; the darker the syrup, the stronger the flavors. Kaitlyn pointed out Cooper Hill Maple syrups range from Light Amber (golden color, delicate maple flavors) to Dark (dark brown color, robust maple flavor).
No matter where or how the sap is collected, how intense the flavor or how you enjoy the sweet goodness, the end result is always delicious.
“What do you put maple syrup on?” Steve asked at the end of our tour.
Everything. You put maple syrup on everything.