Maple craving? Here’s where to satisfy that sweet tooth
There’s no sweeter way of getting back to nature than by tapping a maple tree.
In Pennsylvania, this is the busiest time of year for the dozens of maple farms that together produced 142,000 gallons of maple syrup during the 2018 maple sugaring season, which runs from February through early April.
The process of tapping maple trees — started by the earliest Native Americans — involves drilling a hole into the trees’ trunks and inserting small spouts to catch the sap that drips into buckets placed below them.
Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said Somerset County is the largest producer of maple syrup in the state.
“With many maple camps currently operated by seventh and eighth-generation families, Somerset County takes great pride in the tradition of tapping maple trees and producing maple syrup and other goodies,” she says.
Springtime weather in the Laurel Highlands is the ideal climate for producing maple syrup because of its cold nights and warm days, she says, which creates an alternating weather cycle from freezing to thawing that changes the atmospheric pressure in the trees to allow sap to flow.
Unlike in some years, the weather pattern has favored syrup production and producers are encouraged by the quality and quantity of syrup being collected.
By the numbers
Commercial maple syrup producers set 670,000 taps throughout the state in 2018, up from 660,000 taps in 2017, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, which ranks Pennsylvania 6th in U.S. commercial maple syrup production behind Vermont, New York, Maine, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
In and around Somerset County, 19 of the top maple farms opened their operations for public tours and tastings March 9-10 during the region’s annual Maple Weekend held in association with Somerset County Maple Producers, which includes more than 75 members.
Old and new maple farms in the region — from fourth-generation producers like Sanner Maple Products in Rockwood to recently started operations such as Black Bear Maple Camp in Meyersdale, opened in 2017 — are bustling to keep the maple syrup flowing for their retail sales and more special events this month and next.
Meyersdale festival time
Easily one of the biggest and best-known maple events is in Meyersdale, which is gearing up for its 72nd annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival March 30-31 and April 3-7.
Susan Decker, one of the festival directors, has been dedicated to helping with festival planning and operations since she was a volunteer in high school and has been a board member for 22 years.
Her grandson, Kaden Brown, 14, will be following in her footsteps this year as he volunteers for the first time at the event. Decker says as many as 200 volunteers from Meyersdale and surrounding communities help make the festival a success.
Local maple producers and food vendors will have their usual array of maple products available in Festival Park and along Main Street in Meyersdale — from traditional favorites maple syrup, candy, cream and cookies, to maple cotton candy, kettle corn and popcorn, maple barbecue sauce and rubs and other unique twists on foods and snacks.
“It’s amazing what the producers come up with new every year,” Decker says, including a few new additions at this year’s festival, including maple peanut butter and maple jelly.
Pancakes and more
The Meyersdale Lions Pancake Shack at T.G. Saylor Community Center will be serving its popular all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage meals from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30-31 and April 5-7 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 3 and 4. The cost is $8 for adults, $4.50 for ages 12 and under, and proceeds benefit Lions Club community projects.
The festival also features maple syrup demonstrations, live entertainment, a parade, quilt show, tea with Queen Maple, children’s activities, a car, truck and motorcycle show and tractor and farm equipment shows.
“Legend of the Magic Water,” an annual pageant featuring local residents, presenting the history of Meyersdale through song, dance and narration, will be held at 2 p.m. April 5 at Morguen Toole Co., 130 Center St., Meyersdale. Admission is $5 for adults, $1 for ages 5-12, free for ages 4 and under.
Decker said new dinner-theater performances of the pageant will take place at 6:30 p.m. March 30 and April 6 for $25 for adults, $12.50 for ages 5 and under at the same location. Tickets for Dinner Theater can be purchased in advance by calling the Festival Office at 814-634-0213.
Boyce Park Nature Center
Tammy Watychowicz, a naturalist and horticulturist for Allegheny County Parks, will be sharing her knowledge of maple sugaring during the Maple Sugar Festival on March 16 at Boyce Park Nature Center, Plum.
The program that she’s been offering for “quite a few decades,” she says, includes a historical nature walk and the history of gathering maple syrup.
“We go back in time to where we began,” she says, “with Native American legend, lore and history. I talk about how they shared their talents with pioneers and early settlers that led to our modern methods of maple sugar making.”
Two hour-long tours and nature walks will be held, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and preregistration is required.
Watychowicz says the event is one of the county’s first programs of the new year and is a good opportunity to enjoy the outdoors after a long winter. She also has taught similar programs at Harrison Hills Park, North Park, Deer Lakes Park and Hartwood Acres and also teaches a horticultural art therapy program for Allegheny County Parks.
Audubon Society ‘Maple Madness’
The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania holds its annual “Maple Madness” program and pancake brunch on March 16 at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, Fox Chapel, and March 23 at Succop Nature Park, Butler.
“Begin your Maple Madness adventure at a pancake brunch featuring real maple syrup,” says spokeswoman Rachel Handel, “then take a guided tour through the history of maple sugaring on Audubon’s trails. You’ll meet a Native American and a pioneer who will tell you how they collected and used maple sap and maple syrup.”
Along the way, visitors will get to see and use some of the tools used in the past to turn maple sap into pure maple syrup and a modern-day evaporator used to boil the water out of maple sap. The brunch and tour last approximately 90 minutes and reservations are recommended.
72nd annual Maple Festival: Meyersdale, Somerset County. March 30 -31 and April 3-7. Admission to Festival Park and quilt show is $5, $1 for ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and younger. Details: 814-634-0213 or pamaplefestival.com
Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania: Maple Madness, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 16 at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, Fox Chapel, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 23 at Succop Nature Park, Butler. The last seating for pancake brunch is 1 p.m. $10. Details: 412-963-6100 or aswp.org
Camp Agape Maple Syrup Festival: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 23 in Hickory, Washington County, includes pancakes and sausage meal with homemade Agape maple syrup and maple syrup snow candy demonstration. Details: 724-356-2308 or campagape.org
Allegheny County Parks: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. March 16, Maple Sugar Festival, Boyce Park Nature Center, 675 Old Frankstown Road, Plum. Pioneer, Native American and modern methods of maple sugaring will be discussed, demonstrated and sampled on short historical nature walks at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Details: 724-733-4618. Registration limited. To preregister: alleghenycounty.us
42nd annual Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April 6 and 7, Brady’s Run Park, Beaver Falls. Entertainment, craft booths, children’s activities, all-you-can-eat buttermilk/buckwheat pancake breakfast. The festival is free; breakfast is $9, $5 for children. Details: 724-378-1701 or beavercounty conservationdistrict.org
Here are a few recipes using maple syrup and maple sugar, provided by The Pennsylvania Maple Festival.
1 package dry yeast
1⁄2 cup hot water
2 cups milk
1⁄3 cup maple sugar
1⁄3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 5 1⁄2 cups flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in hot water (110 to 115 degrees). Heat milk, sugar, shortening and salt. When cool, add to the yeast mixture. Stir in flour and knead two minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down and divide in half. Roll out 1⁄2-inch thick, spread with butter and sprinkle with a mixture of maple syrup, maple sugar and cinnamon. Roll up dough and slice into 3⁄4-inch pieces. Place sliced rolls into pan and let rise 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Invert pan to remove. Ice with Maple Frosting.
1⁄2 cup butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons hot water
Heat butter until golden brown. Add syrup and sugar and beat, slowly adding hot water until icing spreads smoothly.
Maple Filled Cream Puffs
1 cup boiling water
1⁄2 cup butter/margarine
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
4 eggs, unbeaten
Combine water, butter and salt in saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, add flour all at once and stir over the heat until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat, and gradually beat in one egg at a time. Mix until it has a smooth texture. Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, or until no beads of moisture can be seen on the puffs. When cool, cut off tops with a serrated knife, and fill with cream filling. Replace top and dust with powdered sugar, frost with icing or a maple glaze.
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon flour
1⁄2 cup maple sugar
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄2 cup rich milk
1 tablespoon butter
Blend together beaten egg, flour sugar, syrup and milk. Cook until thick, stirring so as not to scorch. Add butter, cool and fill cream puffs.
Maple Baked Beans
1 quart parboiled red kidney beans
1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 pound salt pork
1⁄4 cup chili sauce, optional
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger, optional
Place 1⁄2 of the beans in a bean pot. Score salt pork and place on beans. Add remaining beans. Mix 1⁄2 cup maple syrup and the other ingredients together and pour over the beans. Fill the pot with boiling water. Cover and bake in slow oven (300 degrees) for four hours. Remove cover, add remaining syrup and bake for 1⁄2 to 1 hour. It may be necessary to add water during baking. Serves 6 to 8.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.