In Bainbridge, the cold nights and warm days of late winter can only mean that sap buckets will appear on the maple trees, most with the label “Bakers” on them, to collect sap for maple syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so in the spring, hundreds of maple trees in the area are connected by plastic tubes and decorated with metal buckets to collect sap. Just the sight of the buckets brings the memory of the warm sap fires under the syrup pans and the smell of the strong, sweet maple sap cooking down. For weeks, a plume of smoke drifts up above the Baker’s sugar house building on Freoit street as the sap is boiled – the precious, watery liquid that drips and dribbles out of maple trees and, with considerable effort, is transformed into magical maple syrup!
Only certain U.S. states and Canada can produce maple syrup and only in a very short window of time in the spring, and Bainbridge is lucky to be one of those places. New York is second in the United States for maple syrup production.
The maple sap will drip into the buckets when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. Once such conditions arrive, the Baker’s crew gathers their supply of buckets, spiles, drills, and tubing to tap the local trees, setting large tubs among clusters of maple trees and hanging buckets on individual maples scattered around the village.
Collecting the sap is a daily routine that features the Baker’s mini-tanker truck making its way to each tree. The sap is delivered to the sap house, boiled down, and transformed into deliciously sweet maple syrup, or further processed into maple sugar, cream, or other products.
This heritage of Baker’s Maple syrup production in Bainbridge began with Lloyd Sipple, of Sipples Tree Farm along the river. A pioneer in modern maple syrup production, he was once the second largest producer of maple syrup in the country, making over 9,000 gallons of syrup in a year. Reed Baker took over the maple syrup business from Lloyd in 1982 when Lloyd retired. In 1986, Reed built the present sugar house and retail store in the building on Frieot Avenue. In a good year, he may produce more than 2,000 gallons of syrup.
Today, customers come to Baker’s Maple year round to purchase maple-coated nuts, jelly, ice cream topping, fudge, candy, and other goodies in the shop. But for a few weeks in late winter and early spring, visitors to Bainbridge can see, and smell, the actual process of maple syrup production.