JORDAN | Jim Hotaling never exactly intended to tap into the maple syrup business.
But ever since Hotaling and his family grabbed a wash tub, gathered around an open-pit campfire and concocted their first batch of maple syrup in 1975, he's been hooked. And 38 years later, what began as a hobby has morphed into a successful venture.
Speaking during Smokey Hollow Maple Syrup's open house March 16, Greg Hotaling, the owner's son, said the family's foray into the world of maple syrup started with a Girl Scout's exercise.
"It kind of caught fire from there," he said. "We decided to upgrade and got our first pan."
As children, Greg Hotaling said he and his siblings, joined by the neighborhood kids, jumped into a John Deere tractor or a Ford truck and drove around collecting sap.
"We used to do a ton of roadside trees," he said. "It was a very grassroots kind of program."
As time marched on, technology made the Hotalings' lives much easier.
Greg Hotaling said the new pieces of technology Smokey Hollow has collected over the past couple years — such as an evaporator, reverse-osmosis machine, ultra-violet light and less-invasive plastic spiles — have made the family business' operations more efficient.
For example, Greg Hotaling said it used to take 43 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Now, thanks to technology, syrup makers only need about 9 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
"Just think about how much energy you'd have to spend to get it out," he said. "It's a big upgrade for us."
Sitting beside a crackling wood stove inside the Jordan sugar shack, Jim Hotaling said part of the reason he enjoys participating in the New York State Maple Producers Association's Maple Weekend is gaining a chance to teach the public about syrup making's past and present.
"I guess what I'm trying to do is to educate people about the products," he said.
After feeding a group from Clifton Springs a pancake breakfast Saturday, Jim Hotaling said his family lead attendees on a tour around the sweet-smelling barn to illustrate exactly how sap transforms into syrup.
Along with detailing the science behind the syrup-making process, Jim Hotaling said he likes to take time during Maple Weekend to show the public how much a cook can do with maple syrup. And lucky for attendees, the informational venture includes a taste testing of maple barbeque sauce, maple fudge, maple cream, maple popcorn and maple peanuts.
Outside the sugar shack, Greg Hotaling stood next to a maple tree and smiled as he recalled how far his family has come since it first made syrup with a wash tub and a camp fire. In the future, he said Smokey Hollow plans to add a pavilion for pancake breakfasts to its operations and continue pouring syrup-centered education into the community.
But if it weren't for the continued support of neighbors and friends, Greg Hotaling said life for the Smokey Hollow Maple Syrup family wouldn't be half as sweet.
"It wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't a community effort," he said. "We're still not all the way there, but we're definitely making strides."