Lissa Chambers feels lucky to work closely with her dad, Bob, on the family’s fourth-generation Chambers Valley Farms in Salem, New York. “Since I was little,” says Lissa, who turns 30 this year, “I was always in the barn with Dad, on the tractors, feeding the calves.”
She did leave to go to school for an agricultural business degree but moved back to the farm after her first year and commuted back to finish up. “Going away definitely made me see that I wanted to be home,” she reflects. “I always knew I’d work here. I never missed a beat. The farm is the heart of the family.”
There is one time of year, however, that Lissa doesn’t see quite as much of her dad—and that is sugaring season when she takes on more of the responsibility at the dairy farm because her father is very busy elsewhere.
The work of sugaring starts in the woods around Christmas but peaks during February and March when the family’s sugarhouse fills with sweet steam. Bob, his brother-in-law Kevin Keyes and Kevin’s two sons, Chris and Matt, work hard from tree to evaporator to turn the fresh sap into pure maple syrup.
The family tradition goes back to Lissa’s grandfather John Chambers, Jr., who passed away a few years ago. She has very fond memories of hanging out with her “Papa” in the sugarhouse where he’d tell stories of “the old days”. The wall is hung with photos of how it was done back then.
Lissa’s cousin, 17-year-old Chris has been involved in the family maple business since he was 8, he recalls, noting proudly that he was 10 when he started working the woods and has helped boil for the last three or so years. “It’s one of the best things I do,” he says with appreciation. “I’m a hands-on kind of person. It’s just fun and it’s nice to hang out with family.”
Over the last couple of decades, the operation has scaled up to several thousand taps producing about 2,500 gallons of syrup. It’s a big change from the stories of back in the 1940s when, Chris explains, “it was a few hundred trees with buckets to collect the sap that was boiled down on the stovetop.”
During the two Open Houses held during New York State’s Maple Weekends every March, it’s all hands on deck. Washington County Draft Animal Association provides wagon rides (weather permitting) while Lissa’s mom, Kathy, leads the mixing and flipping of thousands of pancakes (no matter the weather).
As many as 500 visitors come each weekend to eat pancakes and buy freshly boiled syrup, maple cream and maple sugar candies, all made right in the sugarhouse. And if you miss one of the official open house weekends, you might still be in luck if you pass the sign for Dry Brook Sugarhouse when they’ve added the temporary “Stop by! We’re boiling!” It’ll be a sweet detour we promise you won’t regret.
See a cool video of maple cream being made and other delicious sweet surprises at Dry Brook Sugarhouse on Facebook. Or check out their website.
The second of New York’s Maple Open House Weekend is this weekend March 24-25, when Dry Brook Sugarhouse will hold one of their famous pancake breakfasts. Click here to learn more.
If there’s no sugarhouse pancake breakfast around your neck of the woods, try whipping up these delicious pancakes made with Cabot Greek yogurt—with or without the chocolate chunks—but definitely with pure maple syrup!