The smell of pancakes cooking on a griddle wafts through the air outside Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn in Angelica, New York.
It’s maple sugaring time in northern New York. Maple season happens in late winter and early spring as the fluctuations in temperatures allow the sap to flow from the trees. Maple syrup is made from the sap of trees as they store starch through the winter season. The trees are tapped for the sap, then processed by heating it into syrup.
Due to climate conditions necessary for tree tapping, maple syrup is only produced in northeastern North America, with the bulk from Canada and the rest from states in New England, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Maple production extends as far south as Virginia, but climate changes have made production less predictable.
Maple syrup surged in popularity with the health movement and as chefs sought natural ingredients to enhance their cooking and baking. But a shortage of maple syrup for the global market has been a continuing problem. According to the Department of Agriculture, maple production in Vermont, America’s top maple syrup-producing state, responsible for more than half the output, production was down 21% in 2021. The main reason is a shorter production season with warmer winters.
Pancakes and Syrup
With challenges in the maple industry as well as the pandemic shutting down its restaurant business, Cartwright’s is forging ahead this year. This is the 60th anniversary of the pancake restaurant opening for the season and more than 120 years since the family started selling maple syrup.
Cartwright’s operates a dairy farm year-round. During the two months out of the year from February to April, it turns into a maple farm and pancake house.
“It takes 40 to 43 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” said Rhoda Amidon, a family member of Cartwright’s. “It’s a long process.”
The family places over 10,000 taps on trees each year and most of the sap is piped into tanks. The sap is then evaporated using a reverse osmosis machine, removing the water.
People come from all over the country during maple season, Amidon said. Many families are regulars and bring their children and grandchildren to the sugar house.
David and Rita Garretson make the annual drive from Greece, New York. It’s a middle spot to meet relatives from Pennsylvania.
“What appeals to us? An opportunity to be with family, fondness for Cartwrights, their syrup and their congenial staff,” David Garretson said.
Plus, the family enjoys the rustic décor filled with knick-knacks, he added.
A Family Event
Maple season in New York begins in late February and runs into April. The state is second in maple syrup production after Vermont. Sugar houses like Cartwright’s are found throughout the state, welcoming visitors with samplings and tours.
Even with the difficulties in tapping, pricing increases for eggs, butter and flour, prices remain relatively the same at Cartwright’s. A half-quart jug of maple syrup cost $12 to $20, depending on the grade and type of decorative bottle. All-you-can-eat buckwheat pancakes with all-you-can-pour syrup is $11.65. And that’s with two eggs, sausage and ham.
“We are so honored,” Amidon says of customers’ loyalty to the family’s maple business. “We look forward to seeing customers return. Hear their stories of how they are on their fifth generation now. People that have been here when I was a little girl working here.”
Mary Chao is a New York City-based Specialty Reporter at Scripps News. Email Mary.Chao@Scripps.com.