however, are offered as a powder to mix and serve, which is
joke No. 1. The recipe for pancakes includes, at its simplest,
flour, sugar, baking powder, milk, butter and an egg. Joke
number two is crueler, giving still more evidence of how easily
we can be duped. It’s the one played upon us in the name of
called “pancake syrup,” these jars of caramel-colored corn
sweetener, but the only thing they have in common with real
maple syrup is viscosity. And they populate the supermarket
shelves in such quantity as to prove that nothing inspires
lowbrow America as effectively as low prices and relentless
advertising. The Aunt Jemima brand even claims a ChefsBest™
Best Taste Award, which turns out to be nothing more than
a rubber-stamp gesture from a somewhat disguised corporate
a better reason to avoid those disgusting corn syrup products.
Getting back in touch with the land. We are surrounded by
maple trees, and therefore producers of real maple syrup.
Last weekend, many of them participated in a statewide open-house
weekend, which I stumbled on by accident because I took a
neighbor’s advice and sought a pancake breakfast at Peaceful
Valley Maple Farms.
suggesting you give it a try. You have only until the end
of April. You’re going to wait in line. You’ll probably wait
a bit until your food arrives. You might have to wait for
refills. But it’s tremendous fun and the food is good and
you’re sitting a scant few feet from where maple sap boils
and boils away its water to leave the rich, unmistakable nectar
is a small Fulton County city once known, with neighboring
Gloversville, as the center of the leather industry. Like
so many upstate cities, it’s struggling for a new identity.
And like so many, its commerce has bled to strip malls on
an arterial, leaving a shell of a downtown.
significant downtown feature is Johnson Hall, built in 1763
by Sir William Johnson. It remains a historic site, well worth
visiting, a stone’s throw from Peaceful Valley—but it won’t
reopen for tourists until May. So make your way around the
back of it and follow County Route 131A until you see the
billows of smoke that mark the busy sugar house.
and Kathy Savage run the operation. He’ll be found processing
the syrup, while she’s at the door of the gift shop and restaurant,
managing the crowd awaiting seats at the busy breakfast.
the sap is running well,” says Steve, “we process about 5,000
gallons of it a day.” Which yields about 125 gallons of syrup,
sold under the Peaceful Valley name in the gift shop as well
as in selected area retail stores. “We built a new sugar house
and gift shop in 2004, and last year we put in the dining
room.” Although it’s now being used only for the sap-intensive
months of the year, the Savages will open for breakfast on
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, “and we’re going to do something
in the fall, though we’re not sure yet just when that’ll be.”
price will certainly go up, which only makes sense. Right
now, this meal is the best bargain in the Mohawk Valley.
get here between 7:30 and 8,” says Kathy, “you’ll probably
get a seat pretty quickly. After that . . . ”
that, join the crowd. Give Kathy your name and take a look
around the place. You may see Steve feeding firewood to the
boiler, or straining the latest batch. Or remain in the gift
shop, where snacks are offered: cheese and crackers (local
Palatine cheese) and some delicious corn fritters (when there’s
time to make them and send them out) topped, of course, with
dining-room table sports a flask or two of syrup, which makes
the anticipation of your food the more poignant. “Want some
sausage gravy?” our server asked as she took our coffee order,
and how could I not say yes? If you’re not familiar with the
stuff, it’s a mucilaginous mixture of roux-thickened milk
and sausage leavings, traditionally spooned over biscuits.
When I realized that it was offered here as a pancake topping,
I made nary a dent in the stuff.
enough the platter of steaming pancakes emerged, part of a
procession that included fat link sausages, fried eggs and
home fries. And applesauce. As my party of six dug in, the
table grew unusually quiet. I understood then what I’d been
hearing since we sat: periodic dimming of sound as food reached
the various parts of the room. Our meal was by no means an
event of culinary fancification. This is homespun stuff, cooked
by Steve’s mother with scullery help from his two sons. But
as a social event it’s unbeatable.
you stagger out, nab a jug of syrup. If you need a pancake
recipe, let me know.
for other maple-syrup farms through the Web site nysmaple.com,
which gives a by-county listing and contact information.