By Ashley M. Casey
As a child, Rich Finzer hated maple syrup.
His grandfather in Tupper Lake used to send Rich’s parents a gallon of “Fancy” grade each Christmas. After just a taste, Finzer swore off the stuff until adulthood, when he stopped by a roadside stand in New Hampshire and picked up a bottle on a whim.
“There had been a total change,” recalled Finzer, “and I loved the stuff.”
Although he once turned his nose up at the sticky-sweet amber breakfast condiment, Finzer is now the award-winning author of a book on how to produce maple syrup.
“Maple on Tap: Making Your Own Maple Syrup” was released Dec. 15, 2012, by Acres USA, a publisher that mainly focuses on organic and sustainable farming.
Finzer’s sugaring journey began a little more than two decades ago, when he bought a farm in Ira, where he now lives (just over the border of Oswego County). He decided to try his hand at his grandfather’s pastime.
“The first year went very badly,” he said.
But Finzer and his friend and sugaring partner, the late Paulie Bartkowiak, didn’t give up. Their persistence paid off in 1995, when they won a blue ribbon at the New York State Fair for their medium amber maple syrup.
More than 20 years after that first botched attempt at making syrup, Finzer has snagged the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award Gold Medal in the Crafts/Hobby/How-To category. “Maple on Tap” is the first Acres USA book to win an IBPA award.
“In the 25 years that Acres USA has been in business as a publisher, none of their books had ever won an award,” Finzer said. “The greatest kick is they initially rejected it.”
Finzer, who is a retired technical writer for firms such as IBM and Bristol-Myers Squibb, began his writing career as a cub reporter at a weekly newspaper in Cortland, in 1970. In 2007, he branched out into freelance writing. More than 1,100 of his pieces have appeared in print and on the Web.
He is also the author of two novels, “Taking the Tracks” and “Julie & Me.”
Finzer said his book offers a variety of methods for tapping trees, and offers superior — and cheaper — sap collection and storage methods.
“What sets it apart from other books about sugaring (is that they) don’t have my credentials. They don’t have a blue ribbon,” he said.
The book’s path to publication was a rocky one. His sugaring partner passed away in 2011, the first graphic designer and editor quit, and Acres USA had to print the book in China because of overbooked printing schedules.
Finzer recalled his new Texas-based editor, Fred Walter, told him, “Rich, I have never seen a book as snake-bit as this.”
Despite all the bumps along the way, “Maple on Tap” was ready for sale just before last Christmas. Sales have been trickling in since then, and Finzer has been featured in The Post-Standard, The Palladium Times and The Nashua Telegraph (of Nashua, N.H.).
For now, Finzer is taking a break from writing, though he said he is considering writing a screenplay in the future.
“I’m resting on my laurels,” he said.
Where to buy the book
For a signed copy of “Maple on Tap,” write to Rich Finzer at 13070 White Cemetery Road, Hannibal, NY 13074. The price of the book is $15.95, plus $5.90 for priority mail shipping.
“Maple on Tap” is also available at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.