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March 3, 2011

Sugaring Off Sundays to begin this weekend

BY MICHELLE MILLER

STAFF WRITER

Spring must be near because The Farmers’ Museum will host its annual Sugaring Off Sundays beginning this weekend.

Organizers say the event has become a springtime tradition that honors the maple sugaring season. Festivities will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday this month. There will be historic and contemporary sugaring demonstrations, a chance to taste “jack wax” (hot maple syrup poured over snow), children’s activities and more, according to a media release. A full pancake breakfast will be served from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As part of an effort to “go green,” Sugaring Off Sundays will feature biodegradable utensils and plates along with tabletop signage encouraging visitors to help reduce waste.

Admission to the event is $8 for adults, $4 for children age 7 to 12 and free for children 6 and younger. The cost includes the full breakfast, which is served in the Louis C. Jones Center. No reservations are required.

Sweet event oozes from 1956 syrup tiff:

During last year’s event, Garret Livermore, vice president of education at the museum, said maple syrup activities there can be traced back to the 1950s. He said in 1956, a multistate dispute about maple syrup was settled at a maple festival held at the museum.

The story has been boiled down in a blog written by Kajsa Sabatke, manager of public programs. She wrote that in January 1956, Gov. William Averell Harriman asked the New York Legislature to officially adopt the sugar maple as the state tree, thereby formally accepting the votes of New York schoolchildren who had chosen the tree to represent the state on Arbor Day in 1889.

The sugar maple was already the state tree of Wisconsin, West Virginia and neighboring Vermont. Upon hearing about the proposal, Vermont’s governor, Joseph B. Johnson, sent Harriman a telegram poking fun at New York syrup and offering to share the state tree if New York could prove that its syrup was even half as good as Vermont’s. In response, Harriman challenged Johnson to a “free and fair” taste-off of syrup.

According to the blog, other officials jumped into the dispute. The governor of New Hampshire claimed that the state produced better syrup than both Vermont and New York and argued that the two states “wouldn’t dare match sweetness with New Hampshire.” In response, a Canadian syrup exporter declared that 75 percent of Quebec’s annual syrup crop was exported to New York, New Hampshire and Vermont. Sabatke writes that although she never found the original statement, she believes he was hinting that the U.S. syrup must not be that great if they were buying so much syrup from Canada. According to the blog, Maine jumped into the action when a State Development official pointed out that 750,000 pounds of that 25,000,000 the Canadians clamed to export came from Maine, where Canadian crews came to tap and cook the sap.

As a result of all the claims to syrup superiority, Gov. Harriman invited the governors of nine states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota) along with the premier of Quebec to attend the New York State Maple Festival in April, the first such festival organized by The Farmer’s Museum, and bring samples of their best syrup for a taste-off. Only one state, New Hampshire, and Quebec did not submit an entry.

Sabatke says she is not sure how The Farmers’ Museum became the site of the taste-off to settle an international maple syrup dispute, but says she does know that staff had already been preparing for the museum’s first maple festival as a way to support contemporary agriculture. She writes that the festival was originally planned to be simple and to last just one day, but as a result of the dispute, staff expanded the festival to two days and added more activities that included contests for maple-related recipes and products and an essay contest for schoolchildren. Gov. Harrison also crowned the Maple Festival Queen, according to Sabatke.

The blog says the governors of New York and Vermont attended the first day of the festival. Three taste-offs were held during the weekend − Gov. Harriman sponsored a cup for the official taste-off judged by five newspaper food editors; New York maple producers offered a Producer’s Cup to be awarded from a vote taken by producers; and a final tasting of the general public pulled from the day’s attendees was provided by The Farmers’ Museum, who donated the Consumers’ Cup.

As a sign of goodwill, the two governors exchanged maple trees from their respective states. Both governors ceremoniously planted the tree given to New York on the tavern green at The Farmers’ Museum where visitors can still see it today. It is used for a portion of the sap that is used to boil down into syrup during Sugaring Off Sundays.

The governor-sponsored taste-off of the unmarked syrup ended in a tie for first between Vermont and Michigan samples. New York placed third and also made a comeback during the second day of the festival when producers from New York won both the Consumers’ and the Producer’s Cups.

Farmer Wayne Coursen said, at last year’s event, that he has been boiling sap into syrup and providing information about the maple syrup-making process at the Sugaring Off Sundays event for 13 years. He said he tells visitors that the process dates back to the Native Americans.

“Although they never got it to the point of syrup they did get something sweet,’’ said Coursen.

“It was when we got kettles that we could really boil,’’ he continued.

Although there has been much progress throughout the years, the principles of turning sap into syrup have always been the same, said Coursen. He said the objective is to evaporate the water from the sap and the longer it takes to do that, the darker they syrup will be.

Coursen said sap officially becomes syrup when it reaches seven degrees above boiling.

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, he added.

According to Coursen, the maple syrup season generally begins during the last week of February and runs until mid April. There is typically a six-week period, he said.

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