Raker’s Sugar Bush, Liberty, Tioga County
by: Clesta and David Raker; David’s sons: Christopher-David and
Sugar Bush, in Jackson Township in northern Lycoming County, has
been producing maple products for over 175 years. The farm is owned
and operated by Clesta Raker and her son, David.
family of Clesta’s late husband, Robert Raker, a well-known local
wine maker and maple producer who passed away in 2011, settled the
farm in 1837 and sweet, sticky maple sap has been harvested there
every year since save one. One of Robert’s varieties of wine was
created using maple sap.
Originally, the Raker family lived in a log cabin, but just before
the Civil War began in the 1860’s the family built a 10-room, 2-unit
farm house that Clesta still lives in today. During construction of
the farm house, much discussion was held on whether or not there
would be a Civil War, according to Raker Family oral histories.
quite a history here,” Clesta said. The historic homestead
traditionally housed two families, typically a set of Raker parents
on one side and their most farm-oriented grown son and his family on
much of the Raker operation uses modern techniques and equipment,
this was not always the case. Clesta has watched sugaring evolve
throughout the years, and remembers the hard work and elbow-grease
required to make maple products the old fashioned way.
years, Raker’s Sugar Bush has changed over from buckets to tubing
and they use some propane in their operation, though they still
mainly boil and evaporate using a wood fire.
Rakers maintain about 2000 taps on their property and that of
adjoining neighbors, and an additional 1000 taps are cared for by
Clesta’s nephew in Liberty Township, Tioga County.
and a few hired hands take care of most of the tapping and boiling,
and Clesta makes the sugar, cream and candy.
sister-in-law was living, we thought we couldn’t make the sugar
without two people, but I’ve learned to do it by myself,” Clesta
said. Now she uses a machine to stir the syrup, but some things have
stayed the same.
you get started, you’ve got to keep going, you can’t stop,” Clesta
said. “If you work it too long, it gets too hard, if not long
enough, it’s too soft.”
machine is also used to press the shaped sugar candies that have
remained so popular throughout the years, though Clesta uses rubber
molds now instead of the old metal ones used for generations on the
to always put the sugar into metal molds. A long time ago, a tinker
would come through, and he made them. We can’t use them now because
they won’t fit in the sugar machine so we use rubber molds, but I
still have them,” Clesta said.
uses syrup from the first run of the year to make maple sugar and
candy, because early batches generally crystallize much more quickly
than syrup made from sap harvested later in the year.
bring the first run up to the house so I can make sugar,” Clesta
said. “We don’t can any of that run unless someone wants syrup with
a very delicate flavor.”
darker the later in the year it is harvested, and with that darker
color comes a stronger, richer flavor.
year, the best runs are in the latter part of March. But, everyone’s
different. I’ve seen that the older ones like the early batches. The
young ones like the later batches because there’s more flavor,”
Clesta said, who prefers to can syrup for her own use in Mason jars,
where she says it keeps indefinitely.
cream is good on Saltine Crackers. That’s how we serve it at the
open house,” said Clesta, referring to the Potter/Tioga Maple
Producers Association’s annual Maple Weekend held each year in
March, when visitors are invited to the farm for samples, tours, hay
rides and home videos of harvests in 1943 and 1959.
Raker’s Sugar Bush is located at 1575 Raker Road, near Liberty. To
reach the farm from PA-15, take the Liberty/Morris Exit. Continue
into Liberty on Route 414 East. Turn right onto old Route 15, and
then take a right onto Milk Plant Road. Take the second left turn
onto Artley Hill Road. After Artley Hill Road becomes Raker Road,
the Raker Farm will be the fourth house on the right.