VARYSBURG — Maple sugar, maple syrup, maple coffee, maple candy.
Unusually-warm weather seemed to have few bad effects as Saturday kicked off Maple Weekend. In fact, it may have upped attendance.
“We were actually very concerned that people wouldn’t come out because the weather’s so warm,” said Dottie Merle, during a break from serving the crowds at Merle Maple Farm. “But we’re happy to see it hasn’t hindered our crowd.”
Maple producers statewide annually open up their operations, allowing visitors to buy their products, and see exactly how maple syrup is made. The event was also slated for Sunday and the following weekend.
Definitely not your typical Maple Weekend temperatures though — visitors explored area sugarhouses in short sleeves and 70-degree temperatures, compared to the usual chill.
“We’ve had about 80 percent of our crop,” said Dottie’s husband Lyle, a longtime New York State Maple Producers Association member and officer. “The season is over. We got going in January and I should have been more aggressive on tapping. If we’d have had good enough weather, it would have been the best crop ever.”
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Merle said last year’s maple crop was the best ever, which resulted in a lot of carryover — resulting potentially in a bumper crop and collapsing prices. The warm weather has also been more convenient for hosting the crowds, he said, since the farm isn’t handling very much sap at the moment.
This year’s season is ending about a month early, with totals varying among producers.
“I’m hearing anywhere from a third of a crop, to some people have a full crop,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a short year throughout the industry, but it’s too early to know what Quebec is doing yet.”
And the crowds were enjoying the chance to be out in the sunshine.
Cameron Bush, 7, of Lancaster, visited Merle’s with his cousins Ella, Coura and Lily — who ranged from 4 to 8 years old — and their grandparents. The kids took the opportunity to climb into an antique buggy parked out front.
They said they came to learn how syrup is made.
About five miles south, crowds were also visiting Boxler’s Maple Farm and the associated pancake breakfast at Hidden Valley Animal Adventure.
Lucas Krawczyk, 10, was helping host the visitors, including managing a pack of piglets which were popular among the adults and young people.
“It’s going good,” he said.
David Boxler, who runs the farm’s maple operation, hosted visitors inside the sugarhouse, as the giant, wood-fired boiler started drawing syrup automatically.
“Today we’ve probably seen a couple hundred,” he said. “It’s the first Saturday. Sunday will probably be more.
“Last year we had about 700 through over the two weekends,” he continued. “We figured this year it might even be more. Warm weather might help if they’re not all out raking their lawns.”
The crowds included Thomas and Shelby Pazian, ages 6 and 5, of Orchard Park.
What did they enjoy most? The maple of course — especially maple-flavored cotton candy for Thomas, while Shelby was getting traditional maple candy for her teacher Miss Finger.
It’s all part of Maple Sunday’s appeal at locations throughout the region.
“It’s something unique,” Boxler said. “A tradition. Something a lot of them have done as kids, and not so much with (plastic) lines as with buckets. They’ve done it when they were kids and they’re reliving it. It’s something they like to see.”