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WNY Maple School – Maple Syrup 101

In Cooking Fresh, Edible Confections, From the Land, Liquid Assets on January 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Although I have no previous maple syrup making experience, I am keen to try it out this winter. The thought of having access to a natural sweetener produced feet from my house is really appealing. I am drawn in by the fact that for a few weeks out of the year, the trees in my backyard, which I normally don’t consider a food source, are able to provide me with free flowing sugar. With this in mind, I was looking forward to attending a day long series of workshops about maple syrup making.

This past Saturday a group of maple enthusiasts gathered at the Western New York Maple School and Trade Show in Gainesville, NY. The gathering was geared towards both experienced maple producers and beginners. It included three hour long workshops, a keynote address from Patrick Hooker, the NYS Agriculture Commissioner, and a tradeshow of maple products and sugaring supplies. I was encouraged to see when I arrived at 10am, that there was a large turnout of over 100 people. Many of them seemed to have been in the maple business for a while. A few of them, like me, were maple novices.

I attended the first morning session geared toward beginners and hobbyists. The presentation was given by Steve Childs, an experienced maple producer, who works for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County. He clearly guided me through what anyone with some maple trees would need to know to make maple syrup this season.

The first thing to do is identify your maple trees. Any mature maple tree over 10 inches diameter can be tapped. Although hard maples (sugar maple and black maple) are generally associated with making syrup, all types of maple trees (including the soft maples: silver maple, Norway maple, and red maple) run sap and make fine syrup according to Steve. You may need some help identifying your maple trees, since even experienced foresters have a hard time identifying trees in the winter. The major differences between a soft and hard maple can be told by looking at the buds and leaves. Soft maple buds are round and red, and their leaves have saw-toothed edges. They are generally thought to have lower sugar content, but their sap runs earlier in the maple season. Hard maples have reddish brown buds with sharp points, and the leaves have rounded edges. Hard maples are thought to have sweeter sap, and run sap later in the season. However, the sugar content of the sap is quite variable, changing from year to year and tree to tree.

Once you have identified your maple trees, you must now wait until the weather is right for the sap to run. Sap runs when the winter days are warm while the nights still hit freezing temperatures. Generally this happens between February 10 and March 10. When the weather is right, drill a hole 7/16” in diameter, about 1.5” deep. Drill the hole at about chest height, or at a height convenient to lifting the collecting buckets. Depending on the tree diameter, you may drill more than one hole to tap. Make sure to never tap the same hole twice. (Tapping a recently tapped hole will cause yellow sap, which has an off flavor, to run.)

Once the hole has been made, gently tap a spile (or spout) into the hole. This will allow you to collect the sap. Then place a food grade container under the spout, keeping it covered so that debris doesn’t fall into the collection bucket. Once your bucket has filled with sap, remove it from the tree, and bring it back to be processed. Since maple sap is the perfect media (sugar and water) for microorganism growth, it is best to process it soon after collection. Filter the sap through a clean cloth or filter paper to remove debris. Since about 40 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup, most of your time will be spent boiling down the sap. A number of methods can be used to evaporate the water, and large scale syrup making operations use evaporators. In general you will fill a boiling pan with several inches of sap, making sure to watch that there is enough sap to keep it from scorching. Then put it over a heat source and let it evaporate until the sugar content hits 66% (this can be measured with a devise called a hydrometer). Alternatively, if the syrup is boiling at 219 degrees F, it is considered done. Once the syrup is finished it should be filtered one more time, and placed into clean containers while it is 180 degrees. Once sealed maple syrup can store for a long time without spoiling.

NYS Governor Paterson and Ag Commissioner Patrick Hooker

Another highlight of the maple school was a keynote presentation by Patrick Hooker. Patrick had grown up making maple syrup on his family’s dairy farm, expressing fond memories of it. He continues to tap some maple trees on his land today. Patrick talked affectionately of the maple syrup industry, pointing out that it receives little criticism. There are few negative environmental and health impacts from making maple syrup, and it is a tasty product in high demand. Patrick discussed New York State’s potential in the maple industry. New York has more maple trees than any state, while only less than 1% of the trees are being tapped. Currently NY ranks third in maple production behind Canada, and Vermont. Maple syrup is one of the few agricultural products where prices remain good, and demand is high. Larger corporations like Wegmans have interest in supporting local syrup. However, the number of maple producers in NY currently couldn’t meet that demand.

Patrick noted that one important way to encourage entrants into the maple industry is by demystifying the process. Those who have never made maple syrup, often think it is more challenging than it actually is. With events like today’s maple school, we can educate more people about how to make maple syrup. Another important step is to increase rights to tap maple trees. Instead of buying all the land that the maple trees are on, it could be possible to rent maple sap rights on other people’s land. One popular idea is to allow the tapping of maple trees on state land.

Wyoming County is home to a number of established maple producers who take pride in their business. I got to talk with Dottie of Merle Maple, whose family maple business has been going strong for 4 generations. They have 16,000 taps and make a number of products including cinnamon maple cream (which I sampled and loved), maple syrup, maple sugar, maple mustard, and many more. Merle Maple, along with many other maple producers will be part of the upcoming Maple Weekend. This two weekend event occurs March 20-21 and March 27-28, 2010. Maple producers will be open to the public with farm tours showcasing maple production, and other farm events. For more information about the Maple Weekend, visit

posted by Caitlin Henzler, aspiring farmer

Just went to Market for My Shiitake Fix…

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on September 12, 2009 at 10:12 am


So I just got back from visiting my friends, Julie & Steve Rockcastle of Green Heron Growers, at the Williamsville Farmers Market. While I was there getting my shiitake mushroom fix, I ran into my friend and Edible Buffalo contributor Lauren Maynard (and fellow shiitake lover) who happened to be picking up her 3lbs. of shiitake (for only $40).

As mentioned in the previous post, Green Heron Growers has just started coming to market as their shiitakes are in full bloom and ready for picking. Below is a pic of what a log looks like right before harvest time.  Isn’t it beautiful?


Shiitakes are an incredibly flavorful mushroom and have a rich, earthy, almost smoky flavor. I urge you to try the Shiitake Pate recipe I posted previously (and if you aren’t that industrious you can always purchase the pate right from Green Heron Growers). Julie shared with me their Recipe of the Week, Killer Baked Shiitake, which sounds equally as delicious.

Killer Baked Shiitake

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
2-3 Tbsp. white wine
Pinch of black pepper
1-2 Cloves of crushed garlic
1 lb. whole, fresh shiitake mushrooms

Mix oil, tamari (or soy sauce), wine, garlic and spices in a small bowl. Stir vigorously as the ingredients tend to separate. Set aside.

Cut the mushroom stems from the caps. Place gills face up. Do not slice mushrooms. (Stems can be dried and used for soup base or discarded). Baste the sauce onto the gills of the mushrooms, make sure the gills become saturated with the sauce.

In a 350 degree oven, bake mushrooms uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  Or you can barbecue on an open grill. Serve hot.  Unbelievable good!! Serves 2-4.  (from Paul Stamets Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms)

I urge all you mushroom lovers to go to the Williamsville Farmers Market and purchase some organically grown shiitake mushrooms.  While you are there you should also pick up a jar of dried ones too!!!

Shiitakes Galore! Green Heron Brings their Tasty Fungi to the Williamsville Farmers Market

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on September 11, 2009 at 10:36 am

I’m excited about having just received word Green Heron Growers harvested over 30lbs of shiitake mushrooms from their farm and will be bringing them to the Farmers Market at the Williamsville Mill this weekend! The price is $40/3lbs.  Why this may sound like a lot of mushrooms, the beauty of shiitakes (aside from their yummy, smoky flavor) is that they freeze well.  So I recommend buying them in large quantities so you have them throughout the year.

Below is a great Shiitake pate recipe that Julie Rockcastle, owner of Green Heron Growers, shared with me, which is also published in our summer issue.  This also freezes well if you want to make it in advance for a party or to have on hand as a yummy snack.

Shiitake Hazelnut Pate

4 oz. Shiitake Mushrooms
3 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts
3 oz. Neufchatel cheese
1/8 tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. fresh parsley leaves

Trim and discard woody ends from the mushroom stems.  In a food processor, finely chop mushroom caps and stems.  In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and garlic, sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in thyme, pepper and salt.  In a food processor, chop parsley.  Add the hazelnuts and process.  Add Neufchatel cheese and process until smooth.  Add sherry and mushroom mixture.  Process until well mixed.  Spread or mold in a serving dish.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Serve with crackers.  Yield 1 cup.

As certified organic growers, Green Heron also sells processed whole organic chickens, eggs and a variety of vegetables.  Check them out at the market and tell them edible Buffalo sent you!

Wegmans’ Top Chefs Compete!

In Cooking Fresh on July 12, 2009 at 9:44 am
Executive Chef Don Woods

Wegmans' Buffalo Division Executive Chef Don Woods

Wegmans had the finale to their first annual Wegmans Chef ‘Throwdown’ on Saturday with the final chef competition happening at their Sheridan Drive store.  The first round of competition was on June 27 and featured chefs from their top 4 area stores; Alberta Drive, Amherst Street, McKinley and Sheridan Drive, competing against one another with in-store competitions which challenged them to incorporate as much local food as possible into the dishes they composed along with featuring a secret ingredient, also produced locally. 

The 4 winners met this past Saturday for the final cook-off to see who was top chef.   With a large audience on hand, Sheridan Drive store’s produce department was transformed into a professional cooking arena equipped with four state-of-the-art cooking stations all flanked by overflowing bins of fresh, locally grown produce.  There was also a large flat-screen which provided the audience with close-up views of the chefs in action. DSC_0357

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Strawberries! – ’tis the season….

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land on June 26, 2009 at 8:56 pm


It’s that time of year—the berries ripe for picking, as well as many other fruits and vegetables here in WNY. Fortunately, there are many U-Pick farms in the area, to allow you to be out in the field, savoring the sweet scent as you scavenge for the perfect fruit. Although strawberry and apple picking (in the fall) seem to be the most well-known, many farms have other fruits you can pick yourself, including raspberries, blueberries and cherries. is a great tool for finding local farms in the area. Most entries have hours and phones numbers listed, as well as a guide to what the farm grows. Of course, you should always call the farm before making the trip out there—that way you are certain the farm is open and the fruit or vegetable is ready for picking.         

Last week I visited Thorpe’s in East Aurora, a certified organic farm, to pick strawberries. They do not use any chemicals on or near the plants, and they even have a sign asking pickers not to smoke around the farm. Picking your own fruit is a great way to meet people in the field and learn what they make with the quarts of strawberries they are picking and possibly even swap recipes. A favorite response I came across was “jam.” I did find out that there are many different things to make with strawberries, and our four quarts (only $10 at $2.50 a quart!) left us with two log cakes, two pies (see recipes below), chocolate covered strawberries and some left over.         

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Field Trip – Gong Garden CSA

In Community Supported Agriculture, Cooking Fresh, From the Land on June 13, 2009 at 7:22 am
Gong Garden1

Peter, owner of Gong Garden, speaks to SUNY Fredonia students


Field trips and college are two things that are not normally associated with each other. However, before the semester ended in May I was given the unique opportunity to visit Gong Garden with my Sustainability in America class at SUNY Fredonia.

There were too many of us to fit into the school van, so a few students volunteered to drive the remaining students. Luckily, directions to the farm were very easy. It was less than ten minutes from the campus! I knew there were farms in the area, but had no idea that one was an easy bike ride away!

At the farm we were greeted by Peter, owner of the farm. The family dog and Peter introduced themselves to each one of us, and he asked if any of us had ever worked or been on a farm before. Only one of our group of twenty-odd people raised his hand, a grim emphasis on the distance people have with their food. As we were walking up the drive we noticed we were being stalked. Gong garden is truly a family farm, and a young boy was hiding in trees and dodging behind various objects until we reached the farm.

Gong Garden represents the epitome of sustainability. On site there is a large solar panel, looking as if it came straight out of a science fiction movie. The panel powers one of the buildings, in which the plants that require a longer, warmer season are housed. We were allowed to take a look inside, but we had to do so in small groups due to the small size of the room. Crowded with eggplant, tomatoes and other plants beginning to sprout, wires and heating panels all in front of a large window it felt as if we were, as a fellow classmate commented, in a spaceship. There are also places to collect rainwater on the farm, quite useful in washing the food they harvest. The farm is self-sustaining–they grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables as well as herbs which the family lives on.

Our tour of the farm ended with visiting a strange wooden and round object, complete with a dome bubble on top. This he explained, was a yurt, one of the oldest shelter designs. For a few years while he attended SUNY Fredonia he had lived in this yurt, surprising the entire group. The shelter does not have any electricity or accommodations inside–it is quite simply an open space with a wood stove off to the side. This summer the yurt will be inhabited again by an intern.

As a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Gong Garden usually takes orders for shares in the beginning of the year. However, they still have room for more orders as the season progresses. They have special accommodations for college students, who only return to the area in August, missing the majority of the season. I took advantage of this offer, and when I return to Fredonia in August I will join the rest of the shareholders and pick up a basket of fresh produce every Thursday. I wish I had found out about this years ago–it would have saved me a good deal of money and I will regularly have good food to eat for as little as $10 a week!

As we were leaving the farm, Peter’s generous wife offered us some freshly picked leeks and scallions. Although not as big as the produce offered in a grocery store they had so much more taste and we couldn’t get enough of the delicious smell. While saying our goodbyes at the farm we stood there smelling the leeks, and when I got back to my room on campus I presented them to each of my suitemates for their pleasure. The farm certainly has its place and it is quite obvious that they have a relationship based on mutual support with the community. For recipes or information on joining the CSA, visit Gong Garden.

posted by Ashley Zengerski

Becker Farms Introduces 100 Mile Radius Dinners

In Cooking Fresh, Edible Events, From the Land on June 7, 2009 at 10:38 am

Becker Farrms

Becker Farms and Vizcarra Vineyards, located in Gasport, hosted the first of many dinners this past Thursday. In the midst of a moderate gathering, the farm introduced the new concept of 100 Mile Radius Meals, a bold attempt to bridge the gap between farm and table. Under this idea, Becker Farms will prepare and serve meals on a series of dates throughout the summer with food produced from the farm itself, or other local producers from within 100 miles. Thursday’s meal highlighted foods from local vendors such as Yancey’s Fancy, Snyder Farms, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Apple Blossom Florist (they provided the centerpieces for the tables) and much more.

Each dinner will be served outside on the patio, and yes, protected from the elements of nature. I was able to enjoy the picturesque view while feasting on the delicious foods. Everything I tried was exquisite–and I heard small exclamations of delight over the homemade meatballs and comments of awe about how much effort must have been put into the small but intricately stuffed potatoes.

becker farms 006

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2009 Reader’s Choice Local Hero Award Winners

In Cooking Fresh, From the Land, Liquid Assets on March 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm



We are thrilled to announce the 2009 Edible Communities Reader’s Choice Local Hero Award winners for the Edible Buffalo community.  The winners are:

Beverage Artisan – Tim Herzog, Flying Bison Brewery
Food Artisan – Patrick Lango, White Cow Dairy
Chef/Restaurant – Mark Hutchinson, Hutch’s Restaurant
Farmer/Farm– Oles Family Farm, Promised Land CSA
Non-Profit OrganizationFood Bank of WNY

Please join us in celebrating our Local Heroes who have helped propel the local food movement forward in Western New York.  You can read all about our winners and the great work they do in the spring issue of Edible Buffalo available now.

You can now find edible Buffalo at all Western New York Wegman’s stores – check us out in the produce department!   For a complete listing of where to find us, visit here.

Albany Giving Grant Money For Community Gardens

In Cooking Fresh, Feeding the Community, From the Land on February 16, 2009 at 7:15 am
Massachusetts Avenue Project - Growing Green Garden

Massachusetts Avenue Project - Growing Green Garden


Community gardens are popping up all over the city of Buffalo.  I hear about a new one at least once a week.  Some are member-driven ventures while others are being constructed as a means to serve neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh food.  Regardless of their objective, there is no denying that community gardens are a vital component to neighborhood revitalization and more importantly, provide communities with fresh, healthy food.  

Even Albany gets it. The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets just announced a grant program which provides funding for community gardens in designated urban areas, Buffalo being one them. 

 “Community gardens are important assets for people who live in our cities, as they provide open space and access to healthy, nutritious food. As New York faces this economic crisis, the ability of Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide support to help garden programs expand is more critical now than ever before, said Governor David A. Paterson.

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For Those Who Still Have Obama Fever….Something Mighty Tasty!

In Cooking Fresh, Edible Confections, Edible Traditions, From the Land on January 23, 2009 at 8:22 am



It looks like our own White Cow Dairy got on the Obama bandwagon with their latest incarnation, Mocha Bama Pudding.  I admit, I haven’t tasted this one yet but if it is anything like their chocolate pudding, run (don’t walk) to the Lexington Co-op or to the Winter Market on Elmwood at the Presbyterian Church at Lafayette & Elmwood (Every Sat from 9am-1pm) or if you are out in the East Concord area go to the East Concord General Store on Rt. 240 to get yourself a little jar (or two or three or four…) of mocha-heaven.

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