Just a spoonful of maple sugar

On Saturday, Chris and I drove on Highway 250W until we hit Highland County, Virginia and the 55th Annual Maple Festival. Who knew that Vermont and Canada weren’t the only places for maple syrup?!?

The maple festival takes place every year on the second and third weekends of March. Maple sugar camps throughout the county open their doors so visitors can view the syrup making process. According to the brochure, “the region’s higher elevations contribute to a late-winter and early-spring weather pattern of warm, sunny afternoons and crisp, freezing nights – a perfect combination for maple syrup production!”

The whole maple syrup thing is old hat for Chris, having known all about it since his field trip to a sugar camp in Cub Scouts. For this Florida-raised girl, though, there was nothing but newbie excitement. Before Saturday I had never seen a bucket of sugar water hanging from a tree.

Our first stop was the teensy town of McDowell. We walked through a few of the craft and food vendors, but we only really stayed long enough to grab a bag of kettle corn. We wanted to get to the good stuff. So we headed up to the Eagle Sugar Camp. There are tours throughout the county, but I’m pretty sure we picked this one because the information sheet mentioned BBQ.

We arrived to find a rustic sugar-making barn and trees with buckets hanging off of them as far as the eye could see. It was awesome. Here are a few things I learned on our tour:

  • A good tree will produce about 10 gallons of sugar water in 24 hours.
  • Sugar water collected from maple trees is made up of approximately 98% water and 2% sugar. It doesn’t taste sweet at all.
  • Tapping causes no permanent damage to the maple sugar tree. The tree heals itself each year, leaving just a little scar. The next year, when they tap the trees again, they just avoid the old scars and find a nice, new spot.
  • Snow is better for sugar water production than rain.

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  • It takes about 50 gallons of sugar water to make one gallon of maple syrup.
  • The Eagles use both old-timey open pan wood-fired evaporators as well as newer, computerized oil-fired evaporators. It all depends on the batch size.

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  • After boiling, the syrup is full of “sand.” They run it through filters to get all of the sand out.
  • The sand tastes pretty yummy, but they aren’t able to use it for anything.

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Look how thick those squares of sand are!

  • Pure Maple Syrup from Virginia is sold by shades of “amber.” – Light Amber has a fine, delicate flavor. Medium Amber has a richer flavor and is most frequently used as table syrup. Dark Amber is used for cooking, or as a table syrup by those who prefer a strong maple flavor. You never know what the trees are going to give you.

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It was pouring rain when we finished our tour, so we drove down to Monterey to get our BBQ. We had the most delicious sandwiches on the front porch of the Highland Inn and then headed home with full bellies and a car loaded with buckwheat flour and maple syrup. It was such a fun day!

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Maple Festival 10All those things hanging in the background are tree taps.

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Maple Festival 25Sunday morning breakfast – buckwheat pancakes and Virginia maple syrup



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