W.Va.’s sap-tapping farmers make maple syrup

High on a mountaintop in Pleasants County, near St. Marys, Cedar Run Farm produces pure maple syrup in its sugar house.
MARTA TANKERSLEY HAYS | Sunday Gazette-Mail Maple trees, tapped early in the year while the sap is still frozen within, run sap once it thaws in the warmth of the early springtime sun.
MARTA TANKERSLEY HAYS | Sunday Gazette-Mail Modern tree-tapping involves miles of specialized tubing to bring the sucrose-rich sap to a central location before the maple syrup manufacturing process begins.
Photo courtesy of CHRIS and BETSY METZ Local producers like Cedar Run Farm sometimes package 100 percent pure maple syrup for individual consumers.
MARTA TANKERSLEY HAYS | Sunday Gazette-Mail Sap runs from the storage tanks to the condenser at Cedar Run Farms as part of the maple syrup manufacturing process.
MARTA TANKERSLEY HAYS | Sunday Gazette-Mail Chris Metz pauses during a heavy maple syrup production day at Cedar Run Farm.
MARTA TANKERSLEY HAYS | Sunday Gazette-Mail Bill Metz checks the temperature of the maple syrup as it flows from the state-of-the-art condenser at Cedar Run Farm.
Map courtesy of CINDY MARTEL Maples, the official state tree, are widely dispersed in several regions of West Virginia and are being exploited in a resurgence of maple syrup production statewide.
Photo courtesy of DEBBIE MORGAN All-you-can-eat pancakes served with 100 percent pure West Virginia-made maple syrup is one of the highlights of the Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens, now in its 31st year.

FRIENDLY, W.Va. — Turning from the country road along the ridge line to Cedar Run Farm, the expanse of clear blue sky opened and puffs of white smoke billowed from the sugar house.

It’s maple syrup making time in the Mountain State, and farmers are working day and night to harvest the sap until it runs dry.

Father and son Bill and Chris Metz are processing more than 3,400 gallons of maple sap tapped in the last 24 hours from trees on their 150-acre Pleasants County farm, marking the end of the long, frozen winter season.

“Usually we get started here about the second week of February, but with the weather, the trees have been frozen up and we just got started with our first run last week,” Chris Metz said.

That’s good news for maple farmers and great news for people who have a sweet tooth for 100 percent pure maple syrup.

North America’s hardwood forests, with a plentiful supply of maple trees, have provided sucrose-rich sap for sugar and syrup production for hundreds of years. Some say American Indians first made maple syrup by placing hot stones into hollowed-out maple logs to coax out the sweet sap. Later, English and French settlers used maple as their main source of sugar, crystallizing it. President Thomas Jefferson even started a maple plantation at Monticello in the late 1700s.

By the mid-1800s, farmers began tapping into still frozen trees in January or February, letting the sweetness drip into buckets as the warmer spring days thawed the sap. They’d then tote the buckets to a large pot and boil it down over an outdoor fire, until there was nothing left but the sweetness.

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