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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

DENNIS MUTHIG, SON of Muthig Farm owners Ray & Dot, points out some of the spots in a maple tree where the family has tapped for sap. Maple syrup-making is a family business for the Muthigs.

The Sap's Flowing
In Sullivan County

By Jeanne Sager
PARKSVILLE — March 23, 2004 – Dot and Ray Muthig are sweet on tradition.
The Parksville couple has been tapping the trees on their property since 1958, collecting the sap and putting in hours of work to make maple syrups, creams, jellies and candy to put up for sale.
It’s hard work, and nothing is definite.
According to Ray, the numbers are daunting – they say it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup.
And Dot never knows when tapping is going to start.
“You can’t plan anything because of the weather,” she said.
But the Muthigs are proud of what they create.
Ray tapped maple trees with his father, Jerome, when he was a kid.
And when he and Dorothy were married, the couple took over the process.
The family ran a dairy farm, Dot explained, and in the wintertime there was little else to do.
In those days, she added, most farm families tapped the trees on their property.
“Many needed the sugar and syrup for themselves,” she explained.
Dot’s own grandfather cooked the sap down to make hard sugar, which they grated and mixed with water – essentially making the sap over again to spread on pancakes or use as a sweetener when they were baking.
The process hasn’t changed much, Dot said.
The Muthigs still go out and tap the trees by hand – they put in 600 taps this year, the number of taps per tree depending on the size of the trunk.
They still collect it all by hand, dumping the sap into collecting stations that are connected to the sap house where huge evaporators draw out the water, constantly circulating the sap to get it to the perfect consistency for syrup.
About 2 percent of the sap is sugar, the rest is water, Dot said, which means it’s a long process to get from sap to syrup.
The biggest changes are in the sap house, the Muthigs said, where the old evaporator was moved out to make room for a stainless steel contraption.
Out on the trees the old buckets have made way for food-grade plastic collectors.
And the end product all goes up for sale.
These days there are only four working maple farms left in the Sullivan County area, but there’s no lack of customers.
The Muthigs sell their wares at the Sullivan County Area Farmer’s Market, to local fire departments for their pancake breakfasts and to a number of local customers who stop by the sap house on Aden Road.
Sunday, the Muthigs opened up their farm to visitors in honor of New York State Maple Weekend.
Sharing their traditions keeps the maple business alive, they explained.
“We’ve always tried to welcome people,” Dot said. “We used to get school groups, but they don’t really do that anymore.
“Visitors are always welcome.”
The Muthigs are working to keep their traditions alive through their own family – their grandchildren are next in line to take up tapping trees and making syrup.
And it’s all worth it in the end, Dot said.
“It’s just tradition – that has a lot to do with it,” she said.
“And it’s the smell,” she added with a grin, taking a deep breath of the sweet air wafting out of the sap house.
For more information on the maple syrup process or to buy some of the sweet product, call the Muthig Farm at 292-7838.

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