Raker’s Sugar Bush, Liberty, Tioga County

Owned by: Clesta and David Raker; David’s sons: Christopher-David and Robert

Raker’s 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.

The 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.

“There’s 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 the other.

Though 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.

Over the 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.

The 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.

David and a few hired hands take care of most of the tapping and boiling, and Clesta makes the sugar, cream and candy.

“When my 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.

“Once 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.”

A 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 Raker Farm.

“We used 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.

Clesta 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.

“They 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.”

Sap runs darker the later in the year it is harvested, and with that darker color comes a stronger, richer flavor.

“Every 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.

“The 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.

 

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