WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Pennsylvania’s new Maple Sweetheart was crowned on Friday night at the annual fall banquet of the PA Maple Producers Council held at The Settler’s Inn in Hawley. This year the statewide organization’s fall banquet and two-day tour was hosted by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Maple Producers Association and included visits to maple farms and sugarhouses in Wayne, Pike and Lackawanna counties. The sap, of course, flows in the spring, but these maple producers are too busy during sap season for this kind of get-together, a mix of fun, business and of sharing their own experiences making maple syrup.
Bright and early Saturday morning, the commonwealth’s new Maple Sweetheart, Tracy Robinson from Coudersport, and her alternate, Rachel Phinney from Meshoppen, proudly wearing their crowns and sashes, joined a busload of 40 to start day two of the tour at Todd and Sue Klikus’ Augusta Acres Farm on Peggy Runway Road, Berlin Township.
The farm is named after Sue’s grandmother, Augusta. And before heading off to inspect the sugarhouse (where the sap is boiled to the right syrupy consistency), Sue told the crowd how her grandmother “would go out to the sugar bush, where the sugar trees are, and she would build an arch with fieldstones… and she would set a two-by-four flat pan on that and build a fire underneath. She would stay out there (for as long as it took) boiling the sap.”
“That’s the way everybody did it back then,” she added. As a youngster, she recalls going with her grandparents to different sugar bushes around their property. “I can remember eating snow with (newly made) maple syrup on it.”
Earlier this year, the Klikuses put out 275 taps on the farm’s maple trees—sugar maple, red maple and silver maple. It was a good year. “We got 61 gallons of syrup,” Todd said. The previous year, he got only 17 gallons.
The Klikuses have been making syrup for four seasons, the first two years using three stainless steel hotel-size warming pans on a cinderblock arch, but that was before Todd got serious and built his evaporator, got the sugarhouse inspected and got his food license. He now sells some of their product to a health food store in Honesdale and to a restaurant in Narrowsburg, NY.
Todd fielded questions from the crowd that gathered around his hand-built evaporator in the sugarhouse, where it was on display for all to inspect, which they did with great interest. A couple of fellows even got down on their hands and knees to peer into the firebox. Just a few feet away, two walls were lined with wood, stacked and waiting to fuel a roaring blaze in the firebox when the sap runs again 2014. “I really believe in dry wood,” Todd said.
Those attending generously shared their experience, advice and information, apparently not viewing each other as competitors but as comrades in a common cause.
Each year Todd does something to improve or upgrade his operation, and for this, he took a bit of teasing from the crowd after Sue said she’d like to see the operation remain small. “What I really love are the sensory things about making maple syrup,” she said, “the steam and the smell and the watching it cook. For me that’s what it’s all about, and I just hope someday Todd gets satisfied here.” Knowingly, everyone laughed. Many have been in Todd’s shoes themselves as their own maple operations grew with their passion for making syrup. Just then, someone in the crowd piped up, “Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says ‘You’ll never lose him to another woman, you’ll lose him to another evaporator.” Everyone laughed. Everyone was having a good time.
After a brief tour of the rest of the farm—horses, pigs, chickens, ducks, guinea hens, bees (in an unusual “top-bar” hive) and more, everyone piled onto the bus and headed out to continue their tour.
All around, it was a sweet fall day for these visitors to the Upper Delaware River Valley.
[Editor’s note: a website with a lot of information can be found at www.tapmytrees.com.]