As this issue of Alm@nac goes to press, it’s Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, known in some places as Pancake Day. Making flapjacks to use up all of a family’s supply of fat, eggs and milk before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and then racing them from place to place in a frying pan, is a tradition that has been traced as far back as 1445 in parts of Britain.
Of course, part of the merriment of pancake races involves the high likelihood of the doughy discs flopping onto the ground en route. Not having yet come into contact with the indigenous peoples of the New World, who invented the art of maple sugaring, 15th-century Brits lacked our secret weapon for plastering down a pancake with wanderlust: a nice gooey dollop of maple syrup. But this sweet (and increasingly costly) treasure of the Northeast woodlands will be readily available to us over the next several weekends, as a variety of venues in Ulster and Dutchess Counties celebrate the bounty of the sugarbush with family-friendly maple festivals.
Among New Englanders, upstate New Yorkers and denizens of eastern Canada, where the sugar maple reigns supreme, it’s conventional wisdom that optimal conditions for sap harvest prevail when there is a blanket of snow to keep tree roots cold at night and sunny days with temperatures just above freezing to draw the sap upward – typically in February and March. So what happens, we wonder, in years with no snow cover, like this one? Not to worry, say the experts: The sap will actually start running earlier than usual this year. And the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz is losing no time in arranging an opportunity for kids as young as 4 years old to get some hands-on experience in collecting maple sap out in the wild and setting it to boil. “Kids’ Day in the Sugarbush” happens from 1 to 3 p.m. next Sunday, so get the tots bundled up to march forth on March Fourth into the Mohonk woods for a bit of fun with a sweet treat at the end. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Admission is free, but space is limited; call (845) 255-0919 for reservations.
Next off the mark is the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, where the pancake breakfast will go on all day at the annual MapleFest on Saturday, March 10. In addition to the Center’s usual demonstrations of frontier crafts like blacksmithing, tinsmithing and broommaking, visitors will be able to participate in tree-tapping, watch maple syrup being made in the sugarhouse and sample fresh syrups and maple candy. As always at Ashokan, live music will be a major component of the festivities. Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., admission costs $5 for adults and youth, $3 for children under age 10 and is free for children under age 5. From 4 to 11 p.m. the musical fare will reach full boil with a French Canadian jam session, a 6 p.m. maple potluck dinner, waltzes with Jay Ungar and Molly Mason at 7:30 p.m. and a session of contra and square dances with Peter Blue & Mooncoin beginning at 8 p.m. Admission for the evening offerings costs $10 for adults and youth, $5 for children under age 10 and remains free for children under age 5. Visit https://ashokancenter.org or call (845) 657-8333 for more info. The Ashokan Center is located at 477 Beaverkill Road, off Route 28A.
Also on March 10, and deeper into the Catskills, the Frost Valley YMCA has bounced back from the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, and its environmental educators will be ready to host a guided Maple Sugar Hike at 1 p.m. Tap-to-table tours will continue at half-hour intervals from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the following Open House weekends: March 17 to 18 and 24 to 25. Free samples of maple syrup will be offered at the end of each tour, and you’ll have the chance to purchase syrup and maple soda. For more information or to register for the March 10 hike, contact Benjamin Snyder at (845) 985-2291 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit https://frostvalley.org. The campsite is located at 1920 Frost Valley Road outside Claryville.
On Saturday, March 24 from 11 a.m. to 12 noon, the Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston will present a free Maple Sugaring Program at an outdoor sap house, demonstrating the maple sugaring process from start to finish, including history, tapping, collection, storage, processing and – most importantly – eating. For more information, call (845) 339-3053 or visit https://forsythnaturecenter.org. The Nature Center is located in Forsyth Park at 157 Lucas Avenue.
Maple festivals in Dutchess County kick off on Monday, March 12 at the Sharpe Reservation, located at 436 Van Wyck Lake Road in Fishkill. The event will feature hikes, a planetarium, live animals, visits to a sugar shack and farmers’ market with traditional craftspeople, as well as demonstrations of blacksmithing and woodcutting using a crosscut saw, like lumberjacks. For details call (845) 896-5910 or (845) 897-4320, extension 10.
March 19 and 20 is Maple Weekend at Cronin’s Maple Farm at 2109 Route 52 in East Fishkill. It will include a pancake breakfast, tours, tastings and kids’ activities. For more information call (845) 226-3815 or e-mail email@example.com.
Hahn Farm on Route 115 in Salt Point will host the Hummingbird Ranch Maple Breakfast on both March 26 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. An admission fee of $7 for adults, $3 for children under age 12, free for children aged 2 and under gets you access to all the pancakes that you can eat, hayrides at 10 a.m., 12 noon and 2 p.m., maple cotton candy, demos on how to make maple syrup using an evaporator and live animals. For details, call (845) 266-5042, e-mail HahnFarm1@aol.com or visit the website at www.hahnfarm.com. You can find out more about Hummingbird Ranch maple products at www.hummingbirdranch.biz.