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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Golden prize: Former Nashua resident pens book on making maple syrup

For a guy who hated maple syrup as a kid, things have certainly changed for Rich Finzer.

The Hannibal, N.Y., resident lived in Nashua for three years while working for IBM. It was during this time from 1985-88 that he fell in love with maple syrup. Now 24 years later, Finzer, who makes maple syrup, has penned a book titled “Maple on Tap: Making Your Own Maple Syrup.” ...

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For a guy who hated maple syrup as a kid, things have certainly changed for Rich Finzer.

The Hannibal, N.Y., resident lived in Nashua for three years while working for IBM. It was during this time from 1985-88 that he fell in love with maple syrup. Now 24 years later, Finzer, who makes maple syrup, has penned a book titled “Maple on Tap: Making Your Own Maple Syrup.”

The writing project began nearly two years ago, after Finzer’s maple syrup-making partner Paulie Bartkowiak died. He toyed with the idea of publishing a book about their maple syrup adventures, explaining how to successfully partake in the hobby.

“On Feb. 11, everything changed for me,” Finzer said. “The guy I had made maple syrup with for 20 years died. Paulie died. At that point, I went, ‘Alright, I have to do this now. If for not other reason than to honor my friend.’ This guy was like a second father to me.”

It took roughly 60 days for Finzer to write the 136-page book. He hit a few snags in dealing with his publishing company, Acres USA, for whom he previously wrote a number of magazine articles. He was asked to take more photographs to accompany the book, mostly of the equipment. Now, almost a year and a half later, “Maple on Tap” is ready to hit the book shelves.

The tale of Finzer’s love affair with maple syrup began after he and his wife went out to breakfast with some friends in Hollis. On their way back to their Shore Drive home, the couple stopped at a roadside stand and picked up a bottle of locally made maple syrup.

“I had never eaten maple syrup and enjoyed it. As a kid, I couldn’t stand the taste of the stuff,” he said, adding his grandfather used to send a gallon of maple syrup to their family home in Rochester, N.Y., every Christmas. “My parents would go nuts for this stuff. I’m sitting at this breakfast table … and I’m eating Log Cabin because that’s what I liked. Maple syrup has a very distinctive taste. It was a little too strong for my taste buds. I was just a kid.”

That weekend, Finzer and his wife decided to make French toast and top it with the syrup they purchased.

“It was like my life changed. It was one of those ‘ah ha’ moments, you know. You hear the angels sing and all that other stuff,” he said. “This stuff’s terrific.”

In 1991, Finzer and Bartkowiak began producing maple syrup. This was after Finzer moved back to central New York and purchased his 80-acre farm in Hannibal. Before the duo refined their methods, they cooked down the liquid in a wash tub.

“We had pretty good luck,” Finzer said about their first batch of syrup. “It wasn’t really where we were headed.”

The next year, the pair used two wash tubs and doubled their production. Finzer said he’s kept the now defunct evaporators to remind him of how far he and Bartkowiak had come.

And they did come far. They took second place for their medium amber maple syrup at the New York State Fair. They also garnered a third-place prize. But Finzer and Bartkowiak really outdid themselves in 1995 when they took home the first premium blue ribbon for their medium amber batch. Finzer said they received a $15 prize for their award, but that wasn’t the best part about the accolade.

“It boosted the living daylights out of my self-esteem,” he said. “I’ve proven to myself and anybody else that I’m pretty good at this stuff.”

After taking home the top prize from the New York State Fair, the partners stopped entering their maple syrup in contests and continued to make it as a hobby. In addition to remembering the countless good times that Finzer and Bartkowiak had being “thick as thieves” while making syrup, Finzer wanted to write a book because the one he read when he first started out wasn’t overly helpful.

The book was published in the 1970s and was what he described as an “elevated view” on the maple syrup-making process. The author only wrote of one way to create the substance.

In his book, Finzer writes about all of the methods he is aware of, including his own preferred operation. He and Bartkowiak used a hybrid 24-tap system that utilized plastic buckets, which don’t rust, instead of the metal buckets. Finzer said one of his hybrid taps equates to 5 percent of the cost of using a metal bucket.

“I try to give people as many options as possible,” he said. “I wanted the book to be motivational. I wanted it to be educational to the extent it was possible. I wanted it to be a little entertaining. There’s nothing worse than reading a how to manual and it reads like a phone book.”

Finzer, who comes from a technical writing and journalistic background, included a glossary of terms in the front of the book. He also listed and defined all of the slang words used in the maple syrup-making industry so readers could follow along easily.

“Maple Syrup on Tap” can be purchased on www.amazon.com for $15.95.

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).