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Hundreds visit sugar houses for Maple Weekend

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Sweet syrups and sugar drew hundreds to St. Lawrence County maple producers Saturday and Sunday for Maple Weekend, a statewide event created to promote the industry.

Maple Weekend started in Wyoming County in Western New York during the 1990s and has spread ever since. Maple producers open their doors with tours, samples and special events.

Five St. Lawrence County producers participated Saturday and Sunday, and hundreds of north country residents came out to see what it was all about.

“We were surprised that we had as many people coming around, as cold as it was in the last couple of days, because it just wasn’t sugaring weather,” said Kenneth J. Tupper of Tupper’s Hilltop Maple Treats in Canton.

The temperature needs to be above freezing for sap to flow, so last week’s cold weather meant production slowed down after a few very productive days.

Still, the county’s few days of warm weather have already been a boon to maple producers. Last winter’s mild temperatures meant a poor year for maple syrup, but this year things seem to be back on track.

“This year, already, we’re almost up to last year’s total,” said Michael R. Kenny of Sweeter Creations Sugar House in Madrid.

Sweeter Creations made only 160 gallons of syrup in 2012. This year, the business has already topped 100 gallons.

Producers said they’re cautiously optimistic about the season, but it’s too early to say anything for sure.

“For the majority I think it’s going to be an average season, but it’s hard to predict the weather,” said James J. Finen of Finen Maple Products in Norwood.

For Maple Weekend, Mr. Finen took visitors on buggy rides through the woods and offered samples of various maple recipes.

“Kids like the hot dogs cooked in maple syrup,” he said.

About 60 families visited Finen Maple Products over the weekend, some returning for their second or third year in a row.

All the producers had plenty of products for sale. Maple Weekend provides a prime opportunity to peddle their wares.

“We’ve sold quite a bit of stuff,” Mr. Tupper said.

For most of the producers, maple syrup is a tradition stretching back decades or even generations. Mr. Kenny said he learned the business tapping trees at his grandfather’s house when he was a child, which led him to create his own business.

The industry has changed a lot in those years.

Many steps once done by hand over a long time, like mixing syrup into the proper consistency for candy and pouring it into rubber molds, are now greatly shortened by machines developed in the past few years. New processes for extracting and evaporating the sap, such as vacuum tubing and reverse-osmosis evaporation, are meant to make the process safer for consumers and the environment.

“Everything has changed,” Mr. Finen said.

Maple sugar may be an evolving science, but the basics remain the same. Mr. Kenny has been in the business for decades and is training his sons to take over.

“It’s a 40-plus-year labor of love,” he said.

A second Maple Weekend will be held Saturday and Sunday.

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