To aficionados, pure maple syrup is a nectar from the gods.
With the annual Maple Weekend this Friday and Saturday and March 28-29, they’re gearing up to drive an hour or more to country restaurants – some operated by the maple producers themselves – for freshly made buttermilk pancakes sweetened with maple syrup.
They’ll also scoop up maple products – from maple cream and maple granules, to maple syrup packaged by different grades and in a variety of containers – to stock up with at home.
Many will take the beaten path to Moore’s Maple Shack & Pancake House, located in Freedom, a few miles from downtown Arcade.
The restaurant serves all-you-can-eat pancakes with Grade A dark amber syrup in the main room, while the sap that the syrup comes from is boiled in a stainless-steel evaporator in the back.
On a visit during last year’s Maple Weekend, Western New Yorkers rekindled and added to pleasant family memories, enjoyed a delicious meal, or both. Regulars arrived early, aware that long lines form by midmorning at the maple mecca.
“We try to come every year. We came with the kids when they were little, and ever since then we’ve tried to come back,” said Abby Albrecht of Akron, who was with her husband, Cliff, daughter and son-in-law. “It’s what we’re familiar with, it’s homey, and the people here are friendly.”
John and Holly Wasik and daughter Brianna made the trip from Lancaster – something they’ve done for the past 11 years.
“Coming here is a great family event. It’s in the country, in the middle of nowhere, and the ambience is just great,” John Wasik said. “They’ve got great pancakes, and great maple syrup.”
Inside the vinyl-sided restaurant are cabinlike walls full of historical items that range from old boots, snowshoes and wooden crates to glass bottles, cups and old maple syrup cans. There are photographs of the Moore family, who have been tapping trees in the northeast corner of Cattaraugus County for five generations.
“It’s like a rustic Applebee’s,” a young girl from Buffalo observed.
People in the crowded dining room ate stacks of thin, golden-brown pancakes, with syrup the color of amber cascading over them. There was granulated maple toast, and maple syrup sundaes for dessert. The workforce hummed along like a well-oiled machine, a dozen Moore family members among them.
Back in the restaurant’s engine room, founder Earl L. Moore – who moved with his family to Freedom in 1966, opened the sugar house in 1971 and the restaurant in 1986 – was standing by the evaporator and its reverse osmosis units with son William B. Moore, who’s in charge now.
About 1,600 gallons of sap boiled an hour, at 219 degrees Fahrenheit, makes 35 to 40 gallons of syrup, Earl Moore said.
The syrup comes from 3,000 trees in the family-owned woods, which are tapped with more than 30 miles of plastic tubing and pumped a half-mile to the sugarhouse. The tubing process came into use in 1969, when it replaced the more idyllic bucket system, in which the syrup was transferred to a large container hauled by horses.
“When the sap was running, we’d be chasing around with buckets, and boiling at night. Now, we start the pump and get it down there, and start boiling during the day,” Moore said.
Between 1,200 and 1,400 gallons of maple syrup are produced in a typical season, he said.
On weekends, John Deere-powered carts shuttle families down Galen Hill Road to the nearby woods, on the other side of the street, to show where the syrup comes from and how the trees are tapped.
Moore said he was optimistic this season would be a good one, although it was too soon to know for sure. “It has to freeze and thaw, preferably freeze at night, thaw in the day. I’m talking 25 degrees or a little lower; 28 is not going to help us very much for freezing. What we’d like is 23, 25 at night, 40s in the day,” he said.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found maple syrup production was up 59 percent in New York State, because of better weather, making the state’s 574,000 gallons second only to Vermont’s production.
Dan Metcalf, who was lending the Moores a hand, taps 1,000 trees and said his family has been making maple syrup in Rushford for the past 200 years. The tradition goes back even further, since Native Americans were producing maple syrup in Western New York before the Europeans arrived.
Back at the restaurant, Lloyd Nair, who has a cabin in the Southern Tier, was enjoying the time there with friend Ernie Lucantonio, both of Niagara Falls.
“I love the maple syrup, but here the pancakes are so light. Nobody does a pancake like this place,” Nair said.
“We’ll be back with our wives. They usually do the stocking. We just came to eat today,” Lucantonio said.
“We’ll be back a second time before the season’s over, Lloyd said.
“Second? Maybe three,” Lucantonio added.
Moore’s Maple Shack & Pancake House, 10444 Galen Hill Road, Freedom, is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Fridays through April 19. For more information, Call 492-27214 or go to www.mooresmaple.com.