Monday, March 21, 2011

Trip to Puffenbarger's Sugar Orchard

Went to the Highland County Maple Festival this weekend to pick up jugs of maple syrup for our gift baskets and gift boxes and get my maple doughnut fix. We get our syrup at Puffenbargers Sugar Orchard on Route 637 (Maple Sugar Road) outside Monterey. The Puffenbarger's have rebuilt their sugar camp following a devastating fire in 2008.

The Puffenbarger's Sugar Orchard has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. When a fire destroyed the Puffenbarger's Sugar House on Feb. 26, 2008 they rebuilt with the help of family and friends. Ivan started helping his father when he was too little to do much. He tied him on a horse with his belt to keep him out of everyone's way. When Ivan's father, Melvin, operated the orchard he drilled trees with an auger operated by hand, collected the sugar water in buckets, and carried those buckets by horse to the sugar house. He would make about 10 gallons of syrup a day.

When Ivan bought the business from his father in 1959 and started to make changes. They began using a tractor ato tow barrels of sugar water back to the sugar house. They went from 250 buckets collected each day to more like 1000. This took about eight men most of the night to collect all the water. Ivan had an idea that would change his maple production. He began using plastic tubing rather than buckets to collect the maple ssugar water. The first year they connected about half the trees by plastic tubing and were able to see how well it worked. The following year they went to all plastic tubing and collected water by the flow of gravity. At that time, Ivan had only one evaporator but soon bought another. Ivan got a big idea to hook up the milking machine, used from the dairy, to the trees. Everyone made fun of him and thought he'd lost his mind. The milking machine would typically milk from four to eight cows at a time, but when he connected it to the trees it was effectively milking 800 trees at once. By the end of the year, he cut eight men from his labor force and upped the production by 25%. In 1980 they added another innovation, the reverse osmosis machine. It would help keep the concentrated sugar water and throw away the purified water. The machine took out about 35 gallons of water of the original 50 gallons of sugar water. That would save him time in cooking the water down. About 30 gallons of syrup is made per hour compared to 10 gallons made a day when his father made syrup many years ago. They soon outgrew the production of their own 800 trees and started leasing more trees from other farms. They tap over 2000 trees with over 11000 taps.

Depending on the sugar content, it usually takes about 50 gallons or more of sugar water to make one gallon of maple syrup. Ideal conditions for syrup production are nighttime temperatures below freezing and daytime temperatures rising between 40 or 50 degrees. The syrup producting season usually ends by the end of March.

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