I have to admit that I am a huge fan of maple-everything. I have had the good fortune to taste maple cotton candy at the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina. I’ve also spread more than a little maple butter on piping hot toast, and have been known to whip very cold heavy cream into billows of ivory while drizzling Grade B maple syrup into the beaters.
It’s a little late in the season to visit a working maple camp to buy the freshest syrup, but many family owned stores still have a good supply of regional syrup, molasses and honey. It’s well worth the effort to find the real thing since the taste of fresh, local maple syrup simply cannot be captured in mass produced plastic bottles shaped like apron-clad women or log homes.
The connection between that just-filled jar of still-hot maple syrup held in your hands on a gray February day, and the families who work with the land throughout the year is obvious when crunching through a cold woods where bright blue bags hang from tree trunks, steadily collecting the running sap.
The steam from the sugar houses rises into the gray sky, and the fragrance of wood fires, fresh pancakes and sizzling maple-cured bacon wafts from the nearby dining room. Many maple camps invite the public to celebrate the too-short harvesting season with live music, Native American-lead programs, colonial reenactors and artisans. Children are encouraged to make a maple tree themed craft, and families are welcome to tour the sugar houses.
Although the 2015 season is over, this is a good time to mark your calendars for February and March of 2016. Just be sure to bundle up and have lots of helpers to carry all those deliciously warm jugs of fresh maple syrup!