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Chủ Nhật, 15 tháng 3, 2015

W.Va.'s sap-tapping farmers make maple syrup - Charleston Gazette

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FRIENDLY, W.Va. — Turning from the country road along the ridge line to Cedar Run Farm, the expanse of clear blue sky opened and puffs of white smoke billowed from the sugar house.

It’s maple syrup making time in the Mountain State, and farmers are working day and night to harvest the sap until it runs dry.

Father and son Bill and Chris Metz are processing more than 3,400 gallons of maple sap tapped in the last 24 hours from trees on their 150-acre Pleasants County farm, marking the end of the long, frozen winter season.

“Usually we get started here about the second week of February, but with the weather, the trees have been frozen up and we just got started with our first run last week,” Chris Metz said.

That’s good news for maple farmers and great news for people who have a sweet tooth for 100 percent pure maple syrup.

North America’s hardwood forests, with a plentiful supply of maple trees, have provided sucrose-rich sap for sugar and syrup production for hundreds of years. Some say American Indians first made maple syrup by placing hot stones into hollowed-out maple logs to coax out the sweet sap. Later, English and French settlers used maple as their main source of sugar, crystallizing it. President Thomas Jefferson even started a maple plantation at Monticello in the late 1700s.

By the mid-1800s, farmers began tapping into still frozen trees in January or February, letting the sweetness drip into buckets as the warmer spring days thawed the sap. They’d then tote the buckets to a large pot and boil it down over an outdoor fire, until there was nothing left but the sweetness.

Economic opportunity

The maple syrup industry represents a lot of, well, untapped potential in West Virginia.

“We feel we’re in the top 10 in the nation, having the largest number of untapped maple trees in the United States,” said Cindy Martel, a Department of Agriculture representative with strong ties to the maple syrup industry.

Thanks to modern advances, the abundance of maples — the official state tree — and prices up to $1,000 for a 40-gallon barrel of maple syrup, there’s been resurgence of the sugaring industry statewide.

Mike and Beth Richter have operated Richter’s Maplehouse in Pickens since the 1970s and have supplied both The Greenbrier and Stonewall Jackson resorts. It’s their maple syrup that’s traditionally served to crowds at the annual Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens.

But in the past few years, other sugar houses have sprung up throughout the state.

Modern commercial operations have incorporated the use of tubing to link trees together and direct sap to a central storage location, sometimes aided by a slight vacuum.

Metz explained it’s not as simple as boiling out the water content.

“There’s a lot more that goes into it,” he said. “A lot of technology, a lot of physics, a lot of chemistry and just getting that understanding over time is a challenge, but that’s part of what makes it fun for us.”

Martel said the state is poised to ramp up production to all-time highs this year.

It takes between 40 and 70 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Martel, a native of Vermont, a state well-known for its own sugaring industry, said, “It depends on the weather as to how much sugar content is in the sap.”

Metz said his ratio is about 55 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup.

“Anywhere from a quart of syrup will be made from one tap, up to a half-gallon of syrup from one tap,” Metz said.

The age and size of a tree also make a difference in the volume of sap. A tree should be about 30 years old before any sap is harvested, according to Metz.

“If there’s a tree that’s in the open and doesn’t have a bunch of competition, it’s going to be one that’s a little more vigorous, you can tap it before its 30 years old,” he said. “A diameter is really what we go by. The diameter of the tree, if it’s around 9 or 10 inches, we’ll tap it. And then you’ll double tap some of the larger trees.”

Ideal harvesting weather conditions have existed just in the past couple of days, he said.

“You have a night where it drops down into the high 20s and you have days where it’s sunny, like it is today with very little wind, and they tend to run pretty well on those particular days,” said Metz.

As in any kind of farming, one season can be more or less bountiful, depending upon conditions and the harvest potential. This year the Metz family is tapping about 1,000 trees. They hope to double that next year and have plans to expand even further as time goes by.

“If the season is decent for us …, and if we can get 250 gallons of syrup this year, we’d love that. Anything above that for us would be a bonus because we’ve increased our capacity pretty significantly from last year,” he said. “We have the ability to get up to roughly 20,000 to 25,000 taps with another property we own and I, personally, have my sights set on that. We would realistically make 10,000-plus gallons in a year. You make it by the 40-gallon barrel when you get to that scale.

The Metzes also host educational tours and plan an open house later this month. For information on a tour or on retail sales, contact them at or on Facebook at

Meanwhile, John and Mel Dalen, of Dry Fork Maple Works in Randolph County, yielded 5,000 gallons of maple syrup during their first year of production in 2014. As the state’s top producer, they’ve tapped upwards of 18,000 trees and have 50 miles of tubing bringing the sap into their sugar house.

Mel Dalen said they plan to increase that by 30 percent this year without adding any trees, just by implementing improvements to the lines.

“It comes in like crazy!” John Dalen said.

The Dalens are bulk producers who wholesale their syrup to an Amish man in Pennsylvania, Mel said.

“We are a low-key operation and don’t do tours because once the sap starts to run, there’s just no time for socializing.”

The Dalens worked with industry insiders, like Mark Bowers, president of the West Virginia Maple Producers Association, to build their business and they’ve hosted industry workshops on their farm.

Maple Syrup Festival

Residents in the tiny Randolph County town of Pickens, where sugaring goes back to the 1880s, have celebrated that heritage with the Maple Syrup Festival for more than 30 years.

This year the festival takes place March 21 and 22. Its centerpiece is a pancake feed from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, where more than 75 gallons of maple syrup will be poured by townspeople and guests, said John Coleman, a longtime resident and festival volunteer.

“Last year we served pancakes to about 2,700 people,” he said.

Planned activities include a square dance, arts and crafts exhibits, wood chopping exhibition, mountain music and maple syrup, naturally, will be for sale. Coleman said it takes about 100 volunteers to pull off the festival, which averages about 10,000 visitors annually.

Debbie Morgan, one of the original planners, said it’s turned into a kind of homecoming for the community.

“Pretty much everyone who has ever lived here and is willing to come back helps with the festival,” she said. “Even people who live in our sister town of Helvetia come to help us and, in turn, we help them with their activities.”

Funds collected are used for historical preservation, a playground, park and a museum, all under the direction of the Pickens Improvement and Historical Society.

Don Olson, of nearby Blue Rock Farm, an organic maple syrup producer, will have his facility open to the public during the Maple Sugar Festival. For directions and information, contact Olson at 304-335-8239. To get a schedule for the festival, visit

For more information about sugaring in the Mountain State, contact the association at or connect with them on Facebook at

Maple recipes

Want to cook with maple products? Here are some recipes from Cedar Run Farm:

Maple Chipotle Ribs

4 to 5 pounds pork ribs

Dry rub:

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons cumin

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon dry thyme

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons oregano

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon chipotle powder

Combine all rub ingredients together and mix well. Rub on the ribs and then let marinate overnight.


3 tablespoons olive oil

3 gloves garlic, chopped

1 medium red onion, diced

2 cups tomato sauce

1 cup dark Cedar Run Farm Maple Syrup

¼ cup cider vinegar

2 teaspoons chipotle powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon ground thyme

1 teaspoon salt

Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic and onion until tender. Add the remaining ingredients bringing sauce to a simmer. Simmer for 35 to 40 minutes. Place sauce in a blender, cover and puree.

Place ribs in a single layer on a baking sheet, cover and bake for 1½ hours at 300°.

Cut into pieces and brush with sauce. Bake ribs for another 1½ to 2 hours in a covered pan on your grill, basting every 15 minutes. Place ribs directly on the grill rack the last few minutes of grilling and then baste them again which will help to caramelize the syrup and add that nice grilled crispiness.

Maple Citrus Sage Turkey

1 (14-pound) frozen turkey

2 cups hot water

Dry rub:

3 tablespoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons maple sugar (sold at Cedar Run Farm)

1 teaspoon dried, crushed sage

½ teaspoon black pepper


½ cup Cedar Run Farm maple syrup

¼ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel

1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper

1 teaspoon pepper

Five days prior to cooking turkey, begin to thaw turkey (2 days) until skin gives to the touch. Mix rub ingredients in small bowl then rub over turkey. Place turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 more days. Remove plastic wrap the night before roasting.

Heat oven to 450°. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey. Place hot water in roasting pan with the turkey. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and roast, uncovered for two hours. If the skin browns too quickly in that time, cover with foil during roasting.

While turkey is roasting, make the glaze. In a small saucepan heat all glaze ingredients until warm.

After the turkey has roasted 2 hours, brush the glaze on the turkey every 20 minutes until the turkey thigh temperature reaches 175° (about another hour). Remove the turkey from the oven and cover loosely with foil allowing turkey to rest for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Maple Strawberry Shortcake


2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1¾ cup heavy cream plus 3 tablespoons

Maple berries:

2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

1 cup Cedar Run Farm Pure Maple Syrup

Fresh whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

⅓ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 375°. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add heavy cream, stirring just until a dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a 12-inch-diameter disk.

Cut the dough into 6 wedges. Place wedges on a baking sheet. Brush wedges with remaining cream and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes until wedge are golden and they are firm to touch.

Meanwhile, while the cakes are baking, combine the strawberries with the Cedar Run Farm Pure Maple Syrup in a bowl. Allow to macerate while the cakes are baking allowing the juice of the strawberries to marry with the syrup.

Reach Marta Tankersley Hays at, 304-348-1249 or follow @MartaRee on Twitter.

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