It's a great time of year to live in Western Pennsylvania for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Local maple syrup farmers are working overtime to meet the demand of crowds that soon will be lining up at maple festivals to get their fill of pure maple syrup served with pancakes at all-you-can-eat brunches, made into maple leaf candies, maple spread and maple sugar cakes or poured into containers to take home.
Melissa Friend-Blocher, one of the operators of Milroy Farms in Salisbury, Somerset County, says it hasn't been a great season for more than 70 members of the Somerset County Maple Producers Association, where the region's largest concentration of maple farmers in the state is scrambling to offset unfavorable weather conditions that interrupted the flow of sugar maple tree sap used to make maple syrup.
While the general public may feel that winter has overstayed its welcome, "we all are saying we want more cold weather," she says.
The season began nearly a month earlier than usual at the end of January, when the sap was flowing and maple producers started collecting it and cooking syrup. Keeping the sap flowing depends on warm days followed by below-freezing nights — and that was the problem.
"The last week in February was very warm for 10 days. That's the weather that hurt us," Friend-Blocher says. "It slowed down the sap to almost nothing. We're hoping for another freeze and we are retapping the trees like we did last year."
Before then, it had been 30 years since they had to try to force more sap to flow by deepening the holes in the trees. For the Blocher family's sugar camp, which has about 13,000 taps in the woods, retapping means a lot of extra work.
"Like any agricultural business, we're completely dependent on the weather," she says.
Despite this year's challenges, visitors planning a trip to the 71st annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale March 17 and 18 and 21 to 25 won't be disappointed, says Friend-Blocher, a board member and volunteer at the region's largest maple celebration.
A team of local maple producers will supply enough syrup and maple confections to satisfy the estimated 10,000 visitors that attend the festival each year, according to promoters.
Tapping the maple trees at Milroy Farms in Somerset.
Events include demonstrations of how syrup is made, children's activities, live entertainment, artists and crafters, a parade, horse pull contest, antique and street road auto shows, a "Legend of the Magic Water" historical pageant and a pancake meal sponsored by the Meyersdale Lion's club.
Camp Agape Maple Syrup Festival
At the Camp Agape Maple Syrup Festival on March 17 in Hickory, Washington County, board member Alex Covi will be manning the maple syrup operations for the fourth year. He also will be directing preparation of a popular maple candy, Spotza, made by pouring boiled syrup over crushed ice or snow to form soft maple taffy.
Containers ready to fill with homemade maple syrup at the Camp Agape Maple Syrup Festival in Hickory, Washington County.
Visitors will learn how maple syrup is made, which trees to tap and how to tap a tree. There will be wagon rides, a chainsaw sculptor, children's crafts and a pancake and sausage meal (RSVP at 412-901-7723).
The history of maple sugaring and the primitive methods used by Native Americans and early pioneers to gather maple sap will be part of a naturalist-led hike through the trails during annual Maple Madness events at two Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania locations.
A Native American re-enactor shows a young visitor how Native Americans transported maple sap in homemade buckets at Beechwood Farm's Maple Madness.
Spokeswoman Rachel Handel says that Maple Madness guests on March 17 at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel and March 24 at Succop Nature Park in Butler will learn how Native Americans warmed maple sap by putting hot rocks into carved-out logs and transported the sap in homemade buckets, among other historical details.
Reservations are required for a pancake brunch at both locations with seatings every half hour and the last brunch seating at 1 p.m.
Maple Harvest Camp Tour
Laurel Hill State Park complex in Somerset will offer a Maple Harvest Camp Tour at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 24. Kimberly Peck, environmental education specialist, state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, says the tour will explore the history of maple syrup from the days of discovery to modern-day evaporation. Visitors will have an opportunity to sample homemade syrup; bottles of maple syrup will be available for purchase. Registration is required for a tour at 814-352-8649.
Maple at Allegheny parks
Allegheny County Department of Parks will host a free Maple Sugar Festival on March 17 at Boyce Park Nature Center in Plum. Pioneer, Native-American and modern methods of maple sugaring will be discussed, demonstrated and sampled on two one-hour nature identification walks led by Allegheny County Naturalist Tammy Watychowicz.
On March 24, free Maple Syrup Making Demonstrations will be offered by Allegheny County Naturalist Meg Scanlon at Latodami Nature Center, North Park. Using "home style" methods, participants will learn how to identify and tap trees, collect and boil sap to make maple syrup.
Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival
An all-you-can-eat buttermilk and buckwheat pancake breakfast surely will be the main attraction at the 41st annual Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival at Brady's Run Park in Beaver Falls on April 7 and 8. In addition to the pancakes served with maple syrup made from the trees at Brady's Run Park, the festival will feature antique machinery displays, traditional crafts, children's activities, a Civil War re-enactment and live musical performances. Proceeds will benefit county-wide Conservation District educational programs.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
Source : http://triblive.com/lifestyles/fooddrink/13401773-74/how-sweet-it-is-upcoming-festivals-celebrate-all-things-maple