Sweet, sweet spring

Taste of pure maple syrup is heavenly in Lake Placid

Molly Brennan Shergold tastes maple syrup on Saturday, March 18 at the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — At 3 years old, little Molly Brennan Shergold wasn’t the shortest mammal in the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house on Saturday afternoon, March 18, during a Maple Weekend tour with her family. There was also Kim, a chocolate lab dressed in a yellow safety vest, and a puppy in a dog crate near the front door.

Molly quickly climbed the icy gravel road, up the hill from the main house to the sugar house, where Tom and Sarah Manitta were waiting for curious visitors to arrive.

“Welcome to the sugar house,” Tom said as Molly and her family walked through the front door. “Make yourself at home. It’s a little warmer in here.”

Molly made friends with the dogs as the adults began chatting with Tom, who has been running Heaven Hill’s maple operations for the past four years.

There were Molly’s parents — Katie Brennan, who was elected to the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees three days later, and Simon Shergold, a Northwood School teacher and soccer coach — and Simon’s brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Shirley Shergold of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

Taking a tour of the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house on Saturday, March 18 are, from left, Stephen Shergold, Molly Brennan Shergold, Katie Brennan, Shirley Shergold and Simon Shergold. Simon, Katie and Molly live in Lake Placid, and Simon’s brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Shirley, live in Nottingham, United Kingdom. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

When they arrived, Tom was still boiling the first batch of maple syrup for the day.

“Because of that, I don’t have any fresh syrup to taste yet,” Tom said. “Maybe later today.”

Heaven Hill Farm has a rich history of producing maple syrup. It is located near the end of Bear Cub Lane, past the Cornell University Uihlein Maple Research Forest, which was also hosting Maple Weekend tours. Both are on property once owned by Henry Uihlein II and his wife, Mildred. Longtime seasonal residents of Lake Placid, they bought Heaven Hill Farm in 1941. The Cornell Maple Research Forest, an experimental sugar bush, was established in 1965 by Professor Robert R. Marrow with generous financial support from the Uihleins.

At Heaven Hill, what started out as an 800-acre farm grew to about 2,000 acres by the early 1960s. Henry Uihlein developed a prize-winning pure-bred Jersey herd of cows, grew table and seed potatoes in vast potato fields, and set up a productive maple sugar bush, with Heaven Hill Farm maple syrup sold “all over the world from Bermuda to Greece,” according to an article in the Jan. 5, 1961, issue of the Lake Placid News.

On March 16, 1950, the LPN reported that a photograph of workers gathering maple sap at Heaven Hill Farm was used on the cover of the March 18, 1950, issue of Collier’s magazine. At the time, about 2,200 buckets were hung on sugar maple trees each spring, collecting as much as 7,000 gallons of sap a day. Gathering tanks were hauled on a sled throughout the sugar bush to collect the sap, which was then boiled down in an evaporator in the sugar house.

Heaven Hill Farm sugar house (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Today, Heaven Hill Farm bridges the past to the present, collecting sap the contemporary way — through blue plastic tubing on the hill above the sugar house — and the traditional way — in blue buckets hanging from several trees downhill from the sugar house.

“Everything downhill, I’ve got to carry up,” Tom said.

On the hill behind the sugar house is an open shed with a sap-collection tank. It’s a traditional gravity-fed operation.

“Everything comes from the trees, flows down through tubes into a tank, and it flows right into the sugar house and into the evaporator here,” Tom said.

On the outside, the sugar house looks its age. It’s a brown-stained log cabin, with red paint marking the ends of each log, white trim for the windows and a white door. On the front of the building, there was a banner announcing that this farm is a proud member of the NYS Maple Producers’ Association while wood smoke and steam rose from the snow-covered, green metal roof.

Blue maple sap-collecting buckets hang from trees at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Inside is one room, with Tom and Sarah standing next to a shiny, stainless steel evaporator to the right, and the puppy in a crate to the left of the front door. The logs are natural with red paint trim on the windows, doors and sideboards. One sideboard has rows of more than 50 small plastic containers filled with “pure Adirondack maple syrup” and labeled with yellow Heaven Hill Farm stickers, courtesy of the Henry Uihlein II and Mildred A. Uihlein Foundation, which owns the property. Tiny glass sample bottles are lined up along one window sill, each filled with different grades of syrup glowing in the sunlight. The stainless steel counters and sink next to the boiling operation are clean, waiting for the first draw of syrup while the sap boils down.

It seems as though everything Tom needs for the maple operation is in this one room, either hanging from the ceiling, on the wall or on a bookshelf — tools for tapping and boiling, educational materials, even a coffee maker for those long, cold days and nights of boiling.

“Tamarak Tom,” as he is known, makes maple syrup part time for Heaven Hill Farm. A Paul Smith’s College graduate, he set up the maple operation at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center before starting a job at the Adirondack Mountain Club, where he works in the education department at ADK’s Heart Lake property.

“It’s nice to keep the tradition alive,” he said. “Our focus is a little bit educational, outreach, and all the syrup that we make is syrup that we give away. We don’t sell syrup. We may be one of the only sugar houses around that say that.”

As Tom stands by the evaporator — made in Canada and sold in Vermont — he asked Molly and her family if they had any questions.

Tom Manitta shows visitors the difference between two grades of maple syrup at Heaven Hill Farm near Lake Placid on Saturday, March 18. From left are Manitta, Simon Shergold, Stephen Shergold, and Shirley Shergold. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“I can give you the full tour,” he said. “I’m here all day.”

Yes, there were questions, plenty of them.

Question: How much do you produce?

Tom: “Last year we made about 80 gallons. … Now, down the road (at the Cornell University Uihlein Maple Research Forest), that’s what they make in a day.”

Question: Do you make different types, different grades of syrup?

Tom Manitta answers questions behind the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house on March 18. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Tom: “A lot of it depends on the conditions of the year. Like last year, a lot of the sap that was produced created a really light color amber syrup. … Because we’re wood-fired, we typically tend to get more of a darker color. … Sometimes it will be darker because we cook it longer.”

Maple producers have the option of cooking with a variety of fuel sources: wood, oil, propane or pellets.

Question: When do you have to start preparing?

Tom: “In January, we’ll start being up in the woods. We do wood production all year round. … We’ll get the sugar bush all fixed up and ready to go. We’ll tap trees. And then around this time is when we start boiling. We have a little more tapping to do.”

As the group walked through the back door, Tom showed them the sap holding tank and the lines of tubing up the hill.

“This line (goes) way up high in the trees,” Tom said. “About 95% of our trees are up on the summit. There’s really good soil. … The smaller diameter tubes flow into the big tube, and then flows into the tank. And then it goes into the evaporator.”

It was a cold night, so Tom placed heat tape on the line between the tank and the sugar house because the sap was frozen.

Question: That’s the sugar bush there?

Tom: “Yeah. Our northern hardwood forest is what I call a sugar bush. Even if it’s tapped or not, but I like maple. The sugar maple trees will create that really sweet, delicious sap. Red maples as well.”

Question: Can you use any maple?

Tom: “Any maple you can make maple syrup from.”

Question: Does it give you a different color?

Tom: “It shouldn’t give you a different color or taste. The taste should be similar, but the big thing is that, things like red maple, they’ll bud out sooner. So once they bud out, that sap stops tasting so good. So that’s when you’re done, when the leaves start to come out.”

Question: How long do you do it for?

Tom: “It depends on the season. Until things are warm enough when those tree buds swell and they start to leaf out, and even before they’re leafing out. So it could be a couple weeks. It could be a month and a half.”

After the group walked back inside the sugar house, Tom had his own question for Molly and her family.

“Have you guys tasted maple syrup before?” he said. “The best way to taste it is right off the spout when it’s hot. Unfortunately, I don’t have that, but I’d love to give you a taste. It’s going to be cold, so it’s not as awesome, but it’s still going to be delicious.”

That’s when Molly’s dad teased her a little.

“You don’t like maple syrup, do you?” Simon asked.

“I do,” Molly said.

“I don’t think you like it,” Simon continued. “You don’t like it, do you?”

“Yes I do!” Molly said.

“Are you sure?”


Tom opened a small bottle and poured maple syrup into tiny, paper cups.

“Cold syrup, sorry,” he said, handing out the samples. “And this time of year, it’s totally socially acceptable to just drink syrup.”

Which Molly did. Every last drop.

Maple Weekends

The second Maple Weekend of the year will be held March 25 and 26, and several producers in the Tri-Lakes are participating.

Sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers’ Association, producers are usually open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

– Cornell University Uihlein Maple Research Forest, 157 Bear Cub Lane, Lake Placid. 518-523-9337.

– Heaven Hill Farm, 302 Bear Cub Lane, Lake Placid. 315-412-5079.

– Mark Twain Mapleworks, 614 Lake St., Saranac Lake. 518-891-5915.

– Paul Smith’s College, 321 White Pine Road, Paul Smiths. 518-526-6570.

– Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center, 8023 State Route 30, Paul Smiths. 518-327-6241.

Learn more at mapleweekend.nysmaple.com.

Maple syrup samples at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Tom Manitta answers questions at the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house on March 18 while visitors taste maple syrup. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Maple syrup bottles at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Katie Brennan holds her daughter Molly Brennan Shergold as she watches maple sap boil at the Heaven Hill Farm sugar house on March 18. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Starting at $1.44/week.

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