Pulling into Benner’s Farms in East Setauket, there’s not much color. The trees, ground, buildings and even the animals seem to have the same hue of browns and grays, a tell-tale sign it is winter on the farm.
But close your eyes and the scene becomes much more vibrant. Roosters crow. The farm cats meow and claw for attention. The smell of animal waste, which is oddly charming on a farm, is apparent.
Next weekend, it will only get more colorful as Benner’s Farm hosts its annual maple sugaring event. The public is welcome to come anytime between noon and 4 p.m. to learn about how a liquid from trees turns into that sweet, sticky substance you drench your pancakes in.
The process is a lot simpler than you might think.
“You drill a hole into a tree, and you wait for it to take the sap from the roots and send it out to the buds,” said Sam Benner, son of owner Bob Benner. “At night, it’s going to freeze again. It doesn’t want to leave that watery sap up there, because the water will expand and crack the branches.”
That’s where the time of year comes in. In the wintertime, the tree knows the freeze is coming, so it will send all the sap back down to the roots at night to replenish. As it flows up and down, the tap that has been drilled into the tree will collect the sap in buckets.
“Once you collect the sap, then you bring it back to a place where you can take the water out,” the younger Benner said.
Taking the water out means lots and lots of boiling. And at Benner’s Farm, because they just do it for demonstration, they show the old fashioned way.
“The best way to boil something to get as much water out is surface area, and so that’s why mapling pans and sugaring pans are wide,” Benner said.
Sitting on top of cinder blocks surrounding a fire pit is a shallow, square pan. The fire isn’t roaring now, but it will be next weekend, when staff will boil the sap down from 98 percent water to 66 percent sugar.
“When you’re boiling, you get the nitrates, which is just the sugar sand and the impurities from the tree,” Benner said. “It’ll be bubbly and have white foam going, and basically I just sit here and I scrape the top.”
Once it is boiled down to the correct sugar percentage, the final step is to filter it through a natural fiber to remove any remaining impurities.
At the end, you will be able to buy some of the maple syrup. Mixed with sap from an Upstate sugar bush, Benner’s Farm maple syrup is called a taste of Long Island.
“Being a homestead that’s been supporting families since the 1750s, we’re showing people how they used to do in colonial times using a gravity fed method,” said David Benner, Sam’s brother.
Head over to their event happening February 22nd from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. to hear about the origins of maple sugaring, other trees that can be tapped and all your other maple syrup questions.
Benner’s Farm is located at 55 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket, 631-689-8172, bennersfarm.com