The hours are long, the work is sometimes tedious, sometimes back breaking, and they’re not making any money but locals Rick Savage and Wayne Cornelius laugh at the thought of giving up on their joint passion of cooking up the only locally produced maple syrup.
Lake Hopatcong Maple Syrup is the brain child of Savage. For years he was saying to anyone who would listen that he wanted to try making maple syrup here in New Jersey, here in Lake Hopatcong. Finally, someone, Cornelius, offered to help him and the talk turned into action. That was 100 gallons and three years ago.
Savage, by day the owner of Green Turf Irrigation, has been making maple syrup most of his adult life, just not here in New Jersey. One might say that maple syrup is the blood line in the Savage family. Numerous trips to Maine to help at a cousin’s large production facility has given Savage the knowledge to confidently produce a syrup with a sweet, buttery taste that has legs, like a fine wine. Cornelius, a construction contractor in his other life, also brings to the table years of experience, making syrup on his own about 25 years ago.
They made their way through their first year the old fashioned way. Tapping just 75 local sugar maple trees, they boiled down hundreds of gallons of sap to just 15 gallons of syrup by using a two foot by three foot evaporator pan placed over an outdoor wood-burning fire. They sold out on all 15 gallons and knew they were onto something.
The next year they invested in a sophisticated boiler, about the size and shape of a one-man submarine that sits on a wood-burning stove and is housed in an over-sized garage on the Cornelius property. The garage is clean and bright and warmed by the heat of the stove.
In year two they also tapped into more trees, somewhere between 230 and 240, said Savage. But the warm winter was a hinder. The duo produced only 45 gallons of sap.
This year, however, the weather has been perfect for gathering sap and producing maple syrup.
The trees were tapped when the weather got consistently cold. In late January they collected their first gallons of sap and they were on their way. A hard freeze stopped the gathering process for about a week but since then they have been consistently turning out bottle after bottle.
According to Savage, they will gather close to 2000 gallons of sap from over 300 trees and will cook up close 65 gallons of syrup by the time the season ends, sometime later this month.
“The season is over when its over,” said Savage, rather matter-of-factly. “Once it really warms up, no freeze at night and more thawing during the day, then we’re done,” he said.
Cornelius and Savage have tapped sugar maple trees on properties throughout the area, including Byram, Jefferson, Mount Arlington and Landing. It seems they are always on the lookout for another cluster of trees that have the right amount of water and sun. One might have seen their buckets propped up against the base of a tree (always on the sunny side, said Cornelius) in a section of woods just to the west of the Nixon School on Mount Arlington Blvd.
Savage is convinced he and Cornelius have hit upon the perfect scenario to produce a tasty product. First, is the mineral-rich soil here in the northern part of the state. He is convinced that the trees growing in this area produce a healthier, better quality of sap than in other regions. The second reason is in the boiling process. Savage and Cornelius use a hydrometer to measure the density of the syrup. When it reaches a certain density, measured by Brix degrees, the syrup is ready for bottling. Most syrup makers use temperature as a way of determining the finish, which also tends to make thin, runny syrup. Savage and Cornelius prefer a thick syrup and their method using the hydrometer measure allows them to make sure each
batch is consistent.
Both men said they will continue to work together for as long as possible, or “until the fun runs out,” said Savage.
Just recently they launched their own website, www.lakehopatcongmaplesyrup.com. Besides selling directly from their production location on Old Howard Blvd., their product is also sold at Station Hardware in Landing, Donaldson’s Farm in Hackettstown, Sussex Meat Packing in Wharton, Mike’s Bagels and New China Restaurant in Mount Arlington.
Rick Savage uses a hydrometer to measure the density of boiling hot syrup.
Wayne Cornelius pours hot maple syrup into a container that is used for filling the syrup bottles.
Rick Savage, left, and Wayne Cornelius take care of the moring duties of gathering sap from a collection of maple trees from a nearby property in Byram.