NEW LEBANON–Saturday, February 20, was the second day of the maple syrup season at the Hand Hollow Sugar House. The sugar bush is situated on a hillside on county Route 34 in New Lebanon, in woods owned by Chris Novotny.
Karen Moore has taken charge of the operation with assistance of Larry Benson, who, along with Karen’s husband, Jay Moore, built the house several years ago. Gus Murray volunteers because he loves the outdoors and the whole process. Rounding out the quartet on Saturday is Mr. Novotny, who is the first to admit that none of them do this work for profit.
Mr. Benson said that this season started a little early. “The season usually lasts about six weeks, but this year, I don’t know, it may be shorter,” he said.
“Usually you can get one quart of finished syrup for each tap,” said Mr. Murray. “Now, last year we made about 235 gallons from our 800 taps, so we did slightly better.”
Ms. Moore started the day at 9 a.m. with a walk through the woods to see if there were any broken tubes or loose taps. Any air in the system of tubes that funnels sap from the entire woodland of trees down to a little sugar shack evaporator causes the vacuum to be weak and inefficient.
Ms. Moore started learning the ropes of the Hand Hollow Sugar House last year. This is the first year she has been in charge. She uses an official color matching guide to attach the appropriate sticker on the bottle indicating grade. This year the syrup has been medium grade. Last year there was no light grade at all. The dark grades usually come at the end of the season, when the sap flow ebbs and thickens.
By mid-afternoon, the outside temperature was near 50 degrees F and the sap was running fast. Mr. Benson continuously stoked the wood-fired evaporator, decanted the distillate and tested it for sugar content. When it has reached the correct density, it was forced through a series of seven filters to remove any little grit and impurities. In the finishing pan it is heated to 180 degrees, poured into plastic bottles and capped. Once they are sealed, the bottles of syrup have an unlimited shelf life.