It is almost springtime and our fancy has turned sappy, as it does every March when the maple syrup reserve dwindles. It can mean only one thing: time to head out on Maple Weekend (March 17-18; 24-25) to stock up.
However, we fret -- has the wacky weather affected syrup production?
A call to Dana Lesefske of the Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda quickly eased our fears.
"We are ahead of last year's production, which was a banner year," he said, noting that nobody can remember a "winter" quite like this.
"We usually tap Valentine's weekend, but we started a week earlier. We could have started in January," said Lesefske.
The Western New York Maple Producers Association reports that a couple of families who have made syrup since the 1800s reviewed their records and show only two times -- the late 1880s and 1930s -- when this type of season occurred.
Another unexpected bonus, noted by everyone so far, is the quality.
"The taste is exceptional. Even our light syrup has great flavor," said Lesefske, who is optimistic that the weather will hold out before the warm spring temperatures return for good to end production. Once the trees bud, it's all over.
For the rest of us, there are Maple Weekend experiences to enjoy near and far. If you are up for driving from place to place to see syrup production, Wyoming County is a hotbed of action. Dress for the weather, including boots for walks in the woods. Find all the county's locations on the Maple Weekend website, along with all other New York State counties.
Below are some other places to visit, including those we love (marked with asterisks). We also have included the approximate distance from Buffalo. For complete information, visit www.mapleweekend.com.
>Let them eat pancakes!
*Arcade Center Farm Pancake House*, 7298 Route 98, Arcade (585-492-3821). The homey atmosphere and all-you-can-eat pancakes makes this a great stop to fuel up when touring Wyoming County. Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (45 miles)
*Cartwright's Maple Tree Inn*, 4321 County Road 15A, Angelica (www.cartwrightsmapletreeinn.com). Cartwright's celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its all-you-can-eat buckwheat pancakes are a classic experience. A seat at the counter will get you up close and personal to the griddle pumping out cakes. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (70 miles)
*Moore's Maple Shack & Pancake House*, 10444 Galen Hill Road, Freedom (www.mooresmaple.com). Devour all-you-can-eat buttermilk beauties among Moore family antiques and see a sugar shack operation. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (50 miles)
*Sprague's Maple Farms*, 1048 Portville-Obi Road, Portville (www.spraguesmaplefarms.com). We love the giant menu of maple delights like maple pork ribs, maple sausage stuffing, maple salad dressing, maple doughnuts, maple shakes. You can even stuff a turkey dinner with a side of pancakes down the gullet. See maple syrup production and an antique sugar shack, plus take a wagon ride. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday (80 miles)
*Beaver Meadow Audubon, 1610 Welch Road, North Java (www.buffaloaudubon.org). Maple Harvest Festival, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 17-18. All-you-can-eat pancakes included with admission. See syrup made the Native American way with hot rocks. Nature walks, scavenger hunts and more are planned. Admission, $8; $6 for children 4-12; 3 and under free. (40 miles)
*Boxler's Pure Maple Syrup/Hidden Valley Animal Adventure, 2887 Royce Road, Varysburg (585-535-4100). A pancake breakfast served in the Trailside Grill with tractor/trolley rides to the sugar shack. The family will have some of its exotic animals out, too. We hear the camel will make an appearance. (45 miles)
*Genesee Country Village Museum, 1410 Flint Hill Road, Mumford (www.gcv.org). Maple Sugar Festival both weekends. Breakfast served 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Self-guided walks to the sugar bush with 19th century and modern syrup-making demos. $8 adults; $6 kids. (60 miles)
*Maple Glen Sugar House, 2266 Gowanda Zoar Road, Gowanda (www.mapleglensyrup.com). See a state-of-the art operation. Learn how syrup goes from tree to table, along with how maple candies are made. And who can resist a maple boiled hot dog? (35 miles)
*Maxon Estate Farms, 1427 Maxon Road, Attica (www.maxonestatefarms.com). Tour a 100-year-old dairy barn converted into a modern sugar house. Maxon's dark amber syrup took first place at the 2010 New York State Fair. (40 miles)
*Sugar Bush Hollow*, 8447 Pardee Hollow Road, Wayland (www.sugarhousesyrup.com). See boiling sap and hike out into the woods to see sap collection. Enjoy a pancake breakfast, tours and demonstrations. (95 miles)
*Wolcott Farms 4 Seasons of Family Fun, 4085 Quakertown Road, Warsaw (www.wolcottfarms.com). Wagon rides, pony rides, maple cotton candy, maple chili, maple hot dogs and special rates for horseback trail rides. (50 miles)
*White Meadow Farm*, 2519 Effingham St., St. Catharines, Ont. (www.whitemeadowfarms.com). Oh, we know it's Canada, but we like this place. There's a pancake house and tractor ride to the sugar bush to learn the history of maple syrup. Visit the sugar shack, maple sweet shop and petting barn. (45 miles)
Syrup and beer
Who says you can't have your syrup and celebrate St. Patrick's Day, too? Here are a few combo stops we thought would be fun for the adult crowd:
*Big Tree Maple, 2040 Holley Lane, Lakewood (www.bigtreemaple.com). Tour a modern sugar house and buy some Maple Weekend coffee. Then head to Southern Tier Brewing Company, 2071 Stoneman Circle, Lakewood (southerntierbrewing.com). Tours are at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Saturdays only; $12. The Empty Pint pub opens at noon on Saturday and Sunday, serving pulled pork sandwiches, soup and, of course, beer. (80 miles)
*Trout Creek Farm, 10045 Mattoon Road, Prattsburg (585-755-3868). Tour the sugar house, eat a pancake breakfast, take a wagon ride and stock up on maple peanuts, maple barbecue sauce and more, then head to the Keuka Brewing Company, 8572 Briglin Road, Hammondsport (www.keukabrewingcompany.com). Open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (130 miles).
*Wohlschlegel's Naples Maple Farm, 8064 Coates Road, Naples (wohlschlegelsnaplesmaplefarm.com). Pancake breakfast is served 8 to 11 a.m. Take a ride up scenic Canandaigua Lake to the New York Wine & Culinary Center, 800 S. Main St., Canandaigua (nywcc.com), open at 10 a.m. Saturdays (closed Sundays), and Naked Dove Brewing Company, 4048 State Routes 5 & 20, Canandaigua (www.nakeddovebrewing.com), open at noon Saturday and Sundayfor wine and beer tastings.
The Culinary Center also offers these food classes: Saturday: Luck of the Irish Feast 6 to 8:30 p.m., $60; St. Patty's Day Beer Pairing Dinner 7 to 9 p.m., $60; March 24: Baking With Maple, 10 a.m. to noon, $45; Beer Challenge 3 to 5 p.m., $30. Reservations required. (140 miles)
*Trout Brook Sugarhouse, 296 Taylor Road, Honeoye Falls (www.troutbrooksugarhouse.com) presents demonstrations, tours and tastings and sells Peter's gourmet pancake mix. It's also an alpaca farm with alpaca wool products for sale. Then visit CB's Brewing Company, 300 Village Square Blvd., Honeoye Falls (www.cbsbrewing.com) to sample its St. Patrick's Irish Ale. Tours on Saturday and Sunday. (90 miles)
You will be able to purchase syrup and other maple products almost everywhere, but we especially like the specialty items from Baldwin Hill Farms, 8505 Baldwin Hill Road, Rushford (www.maplelady.com). It has maple barbecue sauces, salad dressings, maple pecans, spices, rubs, dips, even maple vinegar. Visit on Maple Weekend to see its syrup-making operation or order online.