Cindy and I had a double-fun maple weekend just past. She drove to the farm to spend some time with mom and dad and attend the annual Maple Festival in Andover, NY. The festival is organized by the local Lions International club. It is their biggest fund raiser of the year. This year was the 44th annual celebration of all things maple in Andover.
Maple Syrup Primer
This part of the world is a corner of a small region that is responsible for nearly all of the maple syrup produced around the world. Maple syrup is made from the sap of mature “sugar” maple trees. The sap is only available in the late winter/early spring when the days are warmish and the nights are cold. It’s a very short window of time when sap can be collected. When the sap is “running”, maple syrup producers bore holes in the trees, insert a tap/spigot and attach a bucket to collect the sap. Sap is a clear liquid that shuttles nutrients throughout the tree; it “rises” in the spring as the trees move from dormancy back to vibrant life. Diverting some of the sap for maple syrup is an art that was practiced by native Americans long before the settlers arrived from Europe, and correctly practiced, does not harm the trees.
Once the syrup is collected, it is boiled down in a low and slow process which results in a sticky sweet delicious treat that cannot be duplicated in any food laboratory on the planet.
When we were little girls on the farm, we would help dad tap the maple tree in the back yard and then mom would boil down the sap on the stove. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, so we would make just a quart or so of syrup each year.
Back to the Festival
In an exciting development, I was asked to be a judge for the first annual maple cooking/baking contest! I consider myself overly qualified for this honor/challenge because:
- I love maple syrup
- I’m pretty good at hiding from my personal trainer, since I was almost certain that he was in some ridiculous weightlifting class or other about 20 miles away from the crime scene
- I can handle a clipboard like nobody’s business
The Lions were a little cautious about their first cooking/baking contest, so they advertised lightly. Regardless, they had seven entries and a nice clutch of spectators to witness the judging.
The panel of three judges had a tough time choosing a winner. Everything was very delicious. We had official clipboards and score sheets for each entry. We judged on appearance, aroma, taste, texture, and “maple-yness”.
As we were judging, many of the contestants described the fun they had working on their entries. Some of the items had stories — for instance, the iced cookies in the lower right (gallery picture above) were made from a recipe of a well-known Andoverian who has passed on and the maple syrup in the icing was made by the baker’s son — how much more “local” can you get?
Two prizes were awarded: First place on the left (for the delicious maple baked beans) and the Grand Prize went to the young lady on the right — she made the cookies with the icing and candied bacon topping (top right in the gallery of photos above).
I didn’t get a picture of the maple custard pie that was entered. I had never had such a pie and it was truly delicious — kind of like a maple flan with a crust — must search for recipe!
All the contestants were plotting their baking/cooking strategies for next year and we heard from others who were unaware of the contest but plan to participate next year. What a cool addition to a legendary festival!
On Saturday afternoon, Cindy, Mom and I ventured out to another maple destination. This time we visited Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn — a restaurant that is only open 40 days a year — and they are dedicated to maple syrup and pancakes. Yes, you read that right — they are only open 40 days a year — they make their living doing this — a-maze-ing!
Instead of the more modern buttermilk pancakes, Cartwright’s serves buckwheat pancakes (which are full of protein and if I were not hiding from my personal trainer, I would vigorously argue this point). Cartwright’s makes their own syrup on site too. Busloads of tourists from Buffalo and Rochester and Ohio arrive in this very remote corner of the county every year to eat their fill of pancakes. We arrived when there was no line, but Cartwright’s is ready for the rush with covered outdoor walkways (remember it’s still snowing here occasionally and it’s definitely still cold) and a yellow line for crowd control.
As the food coma descended on Sunday afternoon, Cindy and I were reminded that we forsook our quilting plans for pancakes. I’ll take that trade at least once a year.