In the 1970s, six Wallace children dutifully waded through deep snow in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains carrying one-gallon metal pails full of fresh sap. Their mission was to help their father, James, collect sap. Once their buckets were full they piled onto a sled, pulled by a Farmall tractor, for the trip from the woods to a pan evaporator in their backyard to boil the sap.
“We would think we were doing a great job, but spilled more than we ever got back to the gathering tank. Dad never minded though,” reminisced Charles Wallace, James’ son and business partner.
Fast forward to the 2015 maple syrup season. The Wallace family – James, Charles and Rex (Charles’ son), and their wives Martha, Michele and Cassie, respectively – continue the annual, tried-and-true family ritual.
“My mother, Martha, had always helped with various aspects of making syrup. My wife, Michele, works in the woods, gathers sap, packages most of the products and deals with sales and shipping,” Charles Wallace said, “and my son’s wife, Cassie, helps with sales and helps us at many of the shows we attend.”
Keeping “The Old” Anew
Inside a sugar house, just large enough to fit a 3-foot by 12-foot wood-fired evaporator, the family works together not only to produce products for sale, but to preserve the “old way” of making maple products.
“We use a traditional wood-fired evaporator and we do everything by hand. No automatic draw-offs or computers, just like producers have done for many years,” Charles said. Relying on intuition and experience, the family monitors the temperature of the boiling sap and hand draws the syrup at the perfect temperature, without the use of gadgets or technology. “All of these old traditions help us let nature be its most delicious,” he added.
Once the syrup is ready for bottling or conversion to another variety of maple product, production moves inside the family’s home. “We have a very small sugar house so all of our products have to be made in our own kitchen. At some point we plan on building a new, larger sugar house with its own kitchen,” he said.
With approximately 5,000 taps placed in 2015, the Wallace family collects around 90,000 gallons of sap and produces about 1,500 gallons of syrup. “It’s been a cold start this year, but I think we should get a full season,” he said.
Production Capacity Has Grown Steadily
Like many maple producers, production capacity at Hidden Hollow Farm in Warrensburg, New York, has increased steadily over time. James’ first efforts of making syrup in the 1970s included a few metal buckets pails and a flat pan for boiling. Gradually, he upgraded to a 2- by 6-foot evaporator and added more taps. He later traded in the small evaporator for a 3- by 8-foot evaporator.
Eventually, they updated their collection system, replacing the traditional metal pails with a tubing on vacuum system. “We still try to hang a few buckets each year,” he said.
In 2006, they built a new sugarhouse, the one they still use today. At that time, they were placing 1,400 taps annually. Over the next several years they gradually increased the number of taps placed each year.
Today, they collect sap from approximately 3,800 taps to produce a wide variety of products including maple syrup, cream, granulated sugar, maple jelly, molded sugar candy, garlic pepper, cinnamon sugar, cinnamon syrup, maple peanut, brittle, and maple coated peanuts. “We continue to increase our tap count each year and hope to eventually get to around 10,000 taps,” he said.
During their steady expansion they also purchased a Steam-Away to assist in handling the additional sap and in 2010 they invested in their first reverse osmosis (RO) machine to increase efficiency and allow them to continue growing the business.
Adopting A Name Change
Until two years ago, the business operated under the Wallace family name. In 2013, they incorporated the business, which is now known as Hidden Hollow Maple Farm. When it was time to officially name the farm, Charles desperately wanted to name it Hidden Valley. His parents had named the farmstead Hidden Valley when they purchased the property as their first home decades ago. “The problem is when you say Hidden Valley, everyone thinks of salad dressing,” he said. Instead, opting for Hidden Hollow Maple Farm allowed him to pay tribute to a family tradition, while avoiding brand confusion and potential legal implications.
Hidden Hollow Maple Farm is a member of the New York State Maple Producers Association and the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association, which allows them to participate in the popular New York Maple Weekend festivities held twice in March each year.
They also participate in a local marketing cooperative known as the Thurman Maple Days, which unites the region’s maple farms, select cheese-making farms and a llama farm to encourage visitors to visit each farm for demonstrations and tasting. “It just so happens that the Thurman Maple Days are the same weekends as the New York State Maple Weekends so we get double the publicity,” he said.
In addition to selling their products on the farm, Hidden Hollow Maple Farm distributes their maple products through retail outlets and restaurants throughout the Adirondack region and in niche locations in Brooklyn and the Pacific Islands of Hawaii. “My niece is a sous chef and was asked to transfer to a high-end resort in Hawaii. On one of her trips home to New York we packed samples of syrup and maple products for her to take back,” he explained. The resort loved the products, so they now order individual glass bottles for their buffet, use the maple products in the kitchen and sell them at their local farmers markets.
Hidden Hollow Maple Farm is named among the largest maple producers located in Warren County, New York and is a testament of the family’s commitment to preserving a decades-honored tradition. And for Charles, that is what he finds most enjoyable about the business. “I most enjoy being in the woods in the spring of each year, and carrying on the family tradition of making syrup,” he concluded.
For more information about Hidden Hollow Maple, visit http://www.hiddenhollowmaplefarm.com.
All photos courtesy of Hidden Hollow Maple Farm