Taste the sweet results of this annual late-winter rite
No need to slip and slide north to Vermont. And, forget about scrambling for a passport to cross the border to our northern neighbor. In the next several weeks, a number of local maple festivals make it possible to observe firsthand the fine art of tree tapping as taught to European settlers by Native Americans centuries ago, and to see and smell the centuries-old process of boiling down the sticky liquid in kettles over open flames.
And, of course, there will be plenty of chances to sample maple syrup, maple candy, and maple doughnuts with fellow devotees.
Not surprisingly, each maple festival has its own distinct flavor. Many have long traditions of celebrating and have grown to expand their offerings over the years. Others have retained a back-to-nature feel. All offer a chance to indulge gastronomically in naturally fat-free maple syrup.
Peace, quiet and pancakes
The 48th annual Maple Syrup Festival at Cunningham State Park in Frederick County, Md., is slated for two weekends this year, March 10–11 and 17–18.
In addition to a pancake and sausage breakfast, as well as folk and bluegrass music in a heated tent, park rangers and volunteers will demonstrate the traditional way to craft syrup in the park’s William Houck Area. Home to Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall, the park’s outdoor experience is enhanced by hiking trails, including one that is good in any kind of weather.
Insider tip: Make it a weekend and check into nearby Old Mink Farm Recreation Resort, owned and operated for more than 50 years by the Irons family. Situated atop the Catoctin Mountains in nearby Thurmont (with Camp David as a neighbor), the resort features eight luxury log cabins that are warmed by either gas or wood fireplaces.
History, drama and ‘spotza’
Meyersdale, nestled in the Laurel Highlands, goes all out with the 71st annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival, slated for March 17–18 and 21–25.
A highlight of the festival is the presentation of The Legend of the Magic Water. Noted for its pageantry and cast of 100 members from the community, the historical drama traces the discovery of maple syrup.
At Festival Park, history lovers can step back in time at the Historic Meyers Homestead, the doctor’s office, the cobbler shop, the country store, and a sugar camp. Demonstrations include tapping the trees, boiling the sap, making sugar cakes, and twirling “spotza,” a clear taffy formed after the syrup is boiled down to the soft-ball stage and then poured over crushed ice. Displays include antique cars and farm machinery, arts and crafts, and quilts.
The festival also features a parade and crowning of the Maple Queen. Many of the predicted 10,000 to 15,000 visitors will head to the Lions Club Pancake House for a scrumptious stack topped with maple syrup.
Virginia’s big maple event
Most of the year, Highland County, Va. (population 2,321), is “Virginia’s Switzerland,” due to its gorgeous mountains, moderately cold winters and comfy summers, and preponderance of cattle and sheep. But, come March, the focus is on what might well be the largest maple festival in the country. It’s another great place to “Find Your Sweet Spot.”
On March 10–11 and 17–18, the small county will be at the center of it all, hosting the celebration of the 60th annual Highland Maple Festival with its 70,000 visitors.
Before the festival begins, the queen will have been crowned. And the ball, once very formal, will be a fond memory. But what follows on those two mid-March weekends are all-day pancake (buckwheat and “regular”) dinners at various civic and public locations, maple doughnuts worth the wait, bluegrass music and square dancing, and a juried arts and crafts show — not to mention tours of sugar camps (remember to wear warm clothing and boots). How sweet it is!
Other sweet spots
Maple Sugar Festival
Fort Hunter Mansion and Park
Maple Sugar Weekends
Brookside Nature Center
Silver Spring, Md.
Maple Syrup Weekends
Feb. 17–18, 24–25
Annual Pancake Breakfast
Oregon Ridge Nature Center
Mount Hope Maple Madness
Feb. 24 & March 3
West Virginia Maple Days