Depending upon where you live, when the temperatures are just right, it’s maple syrup time. In Ohio, maple syrup events are scattered across the state from the beginning of March until May. In Canada and elsewhere, there are maple events a plenty. Each offers something different, although syrup and syrup making is the main highlight. I’ve been to four of them. Each time I go to one of these festivals, thoughts of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House in the Big Woods come to mind.
The last festival I went to was last Saturday when we headed to Malabar Farms, former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and environmentalist Louis Bromfield. There we found a draft horse drawn wagon ride up a maple tree-lined-road to the sugar shack and a taste of the good stuff. On the way up the dirt road to Pugh Cabin, the site of the festival, we passed by metal bucket after metal bucket hung from the trees collecting sap–a sign of the season.
The farm, now a state park, is an easy drive about halfway between Cleveland and Cincinnati. This particular festival ties in the history of maple syrup making from Native Americans to modern day. While inside the sugar shack syrup is made with a more modern approach, nearby, set back in the woods along a trail, the sap is cooked down in a hollowed out log by hot rocks continually transferred from a fire to the sap like the Native Americans first cooked it. Down the trail from that station, there’s the pioneer version of maple syrup making using huge cast iron kettles hung over the flames. Wooden signs affixed to trees tell about the history of syrup and provide various facts.
This festival includes a tractor ride to where the draft horses head up the road. For anyone who wants to take maple products home, there’s a shop near the sugar shack, and also in the visitor’s center where other Malabar Farm products are sold and the hop on the tractor location..
We made a feast of the day by eating lunch at the Malabar Farm Restaurant that features food made from the farm’s produce and meats whenever possible. In an ode to maple syrup, I ate the maple syrup crème brûlée for dessert and enjoyed the crunch of the hardened syrup that formed a crust over the creaminess.
Although, most of the maple sap gathering process is explained through signage at Malabar Farms, at Slate Run MetroPark and Slate Run farm near Canal Winchester, Ohio, about thirty minutes from Columbus, park employees dressed in period garb take visitors on a walk through the sugar bush tour to see how a tree is actually tapped.
After the sugar bush, the next stop is Slate Run Farm, a living history working farm set in the 1880s where during maple syrup season, sap is cooked over a fire the way Ohio settlers did it. Inside the kitchen, women dressed in period attire lead visitors–mostly children, through a baking experience where they can taste maple products and be part of making food themselves.
In the southern part of Ohio at Hueston Woods, another Ohio State Park, the Maple Syrup Festival is also happening this weekend. This is a lovely area for hiking as well.
In the northern part of Ohio, Geauga County is one place that goes all out for maple syrup season. In Burton, there’s the pancake breakfast each Saturday in March. The finale is the Maple Festival April 30–May 3. Starting this weekend, there’s the March Maple Madness Driving Tour in Northeast Ohio, a self-driving venture that swings by twenty maple syrup producers in seven counties.
Along with Malabar Farms, there are other Ohio Department of Natural Resources maple festival events.
Here are 10 other maple syrup festivals and maple syrup production sites in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.
- National Maple Syrup Festival in Medora, Indiana. March 14-15.
- Maple Weekend in New York State, March 21-22 and March 28-29. Various locations.
- Maine Maple Sunday at Strawberry Hills Farms in Skowhegan, Maine. March 29. Everything about maple syrup production. Free food and maple goodies samples.
- New Hampshire has Maple Sugaring Weekends throughout March.
- In Massachusetts, you can drive to various sugar shack locations to watch production and buy products. Here’s a directory to let you know where they are. Scroll down the list. Many have Web sites.
- Elmira Maple & Sugar Festival in Elmira, Ontario. April 4. This one is billed as the world’s largest, one day event.
- Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival, in Sunderland, Ontario. April 4-5 Annual bed races, Outback Cloggers, Pancake Breakfast and more.
- other Ontario Maple Syrup Festivals
- Vermont Maple Festival, St. Alban’s Vermont, April 24-26. This is the 43rd year. Activities are broad, so there should be fun for people of all ages