“This is way better than IHOP,” said Syracuse University senior Joe Frandino.
At IHOP, Frandino and his friends would have eaten their pancakes with the gelatinous, dark brown, high-fructose corn syrup concoction commonly known as imitation maple syrup. In their search for an off-campus Sunday morning activity, they discovered Critz Farms and its delicious homemade maple syrup.
“Imitation maple syrup? I don’t even want to talk about it!” said Critz Farms owner and maple-syrup maker Matthew Critz with a laugh.
Matthew and Juanita Critz have been making real maple syrup at Critz Farms for ten years. Established in 1985 and located just outside of Syracuse, Critz Farms is open on weekends in March and the first part of April to visitors who take tours of the sap boiling room, peruse the store filled with maple-syrup products, and best of all, sample the pure maple syrup served at the All-You-Can-Eat breakfast buffet offered from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
“I think real maple syrup really makes a difference. There’s more flavor, especially knowing it’s made here. You can see the process of [how it’s made],” said Peggy Nelson, a third-year employee, while flipping French toast with a metal spatula.
Real maple syrup is not all of the same variety though.
“There are different types of sugars in the sap. On warm days the syrup will tend to be darker. On cold days it tends to be lighter. The lighter syrup tends to have a more delicate flavor and buttery finish. The darker syrup has a more robust, maple flavor. So that’s the difference, it’s Mother Nature. We don’t have much to do with it,” said Critz.
Maple syrup is not the only thing the Critz family makes. In the fall, families flock to the farm for their annual Fall Harvest Festival where visitors pick pumpkins and apples, take hayrides through the farm’s 325 acres, eat hot apple fritters and drink homemade apple cider. In the summer, the Critz’s grow berries, and of course in the spring, maple season starts as the sap begins to run. On average, Critz Farms sees about 50,000 visitors each year.
Critz Farms has grown over 25 years from a tiny operation with one employee besides Matthew and Juanita Critz, to a thriving business with over 60 employees, many of which are family members and friends.
Mike Widger is one such employee.
On Sunday, he made the rounds to all the sap collectors, pumped the sap, and hauled the hundreds of gallons of sap back to the boiling room behind his tractor. “My kids have worked here as well. It’s a great place to work,” he said.
Critz Farms is a great place to eat too, if the happy grins of kids and adults alike are any indication.
One little boy plowed steadily through his stack of pancakes, his face covered in the sticky syrup. “I like it ‘cause it’s homemade. Well, I like it ‘cause it’s right from the trees,” he said