Tuesday, March 20, 2012


One of our yearly culinary traditions is travelling to the Maple Wood Nature Center's Maple Syrup Days in LaGrange.  There are numerous towns throughout Northern Indiana that sponsor maple syrup events, but we really enjoy this one for several reasons.  It is located in a park where they actually collect maple sap, they have a very nice sugar shack where the sap is boiled down and entertaining men who have done this process for years and have a nack for telling how it is done, and last but not least, the pancakes and sausage they serve with real butter and real syrup are "melt in your mouth" good.  The event also features horse drawn wagon rides through the woods where the sap is collected and people who demonstrate the various methods used throughout the years to produce that heavenly nectar known as maple syrup. 

This year's trip to the event was unique in that the weather was warm.  The event is always held in March and snow is often still in the air and on the ground.  This year warm temperatures made the sap running season short and the syrup production less, but wonderful nonetheless.  Going to this annual breakfast acts as a herald of Spring and a sure sign that all of warm weather's bounty is not far behind.

We usually leave our home early for the hour long drive to the syrup days so we get there before the crowd.  If you are in line for pancakes by 8 a.m., your wait will be short.  If you arrive after  9 a.m.  you will be standing in line a while.  Our normal routine is to eat pancakes, visit the sugar shack for the demonstrations, buy syrup plus maple cotton candy (oh yes, it is as wonderful as it sounds) and maple candies, and then ride the wagon through the woods and watch the outdoor demonstrations of more primitive syrup making.  It is a heartwarming and stomach comforting event and one we would highly recommend.  If you have never been to such an event, we've posted a few pictures from the day for you to enjoy.  Try to find one in your area next year if you can.  You won't be disappointed.
 This is a homemade sap boiler that includes a roaster tray on top filled with boiling sap.  The door on the front is used to feed the fire and the stovepipe vents the smoke.  It takes a lot of time and effort to tend the fire and watch the sap to net a good result.
 This is the road we travelled at 7:30 a.m. to get to the syrup days festivities.  As you can see, we were in the heart of Amish country.
Here you can see one of the workers pouring the thin sap into the tray.  It is as thin as water at this stage.
  This shows the separator tray used for "professional" syrup production. The sap travels through a series of channels as it boils at a carefully regulated temperature until it is just the right consistency for syrup.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup!
 Cooking the syrup for this extended length of time creates a lot of steam.  Most sugar shacks have a ventilation system in the roof like the one pictured here.
 This is the old fashioned way of collecting sap--with a bucket that has a cover on it to keep the critters out.  Modern sap collection methods often have long plastic tubes that run from the tree to the large holding tank that keeps it until it is processed.
This picture does not do the taste justice, but suffice it to say, it was delicious!
Here is one of the earliest methods for producing maple syrup--cooking it over an open flame in a kettle.

As you can see, the methods vary from simple to sophisticated, but the results can be equally great.  If you have never tried REAL maple syrup, you are in for a treat.  It is a delicate, sweet gift from nature!

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