You can’t get any closer to a farm-to-table experience than when you’re sitting in the warm, comfy kitchen of Jim and Dora Tice watching their grandkids play while sampling maple cream that they make right outside on their 58-acre farm. This is only one of the memorable stops when you take part in Maple Weekend, which takes place every winter in north central Pennsylvania.
More Than Syrup
Sponsored by the Potter-Tioga Maple Producers Association, the self-driving tour around Wellsboro, PA and parts of the area known as the Pennsylvania Wilds is a real eye-opener when it comes to all things maple. Sure, we’re all familiar with it as a pancake topper, but have you ever had crumb sugar or hotdogs boiled in maple syrup? And if you haven’t ever tried maple cream spread on a peanut butter sandwich, you’ve missed a life-changing experience.
Now in its 14th year, Maple Weekend offers more than just the chance to sample the many products that are made in this area. What I liked best was the chance to get to know the people behind the products—people like Jim Tice, who started making maple syrup after returning from Vietnam in 1967 and realizing that the syrup he bought didn’t taste as good as what he remembered from his youth. Or members of the Patterson family, who have turned what was once a small family business into the second largest maple producer in the nation and the first in the state. Today, their farm produces roughly 20,000 gallons of syrup a year that is sold along the East Coast, and has even been served in the White House.
While the smell of maple syrup is more than enough to get you in the door, the warmth of the families who make this sugary product will keep you visiting for far longer than you expected. One of the most fascinating things is the mix of technology and the traditional; while many producers have upgraded to using natural gas or fuel oil during the evaporation process, others are still using wood fires. And while you’ll see many tubing and vacuum pump systems attached to trees along your drive, you can also visit places where buckets still hang from trees to collect sap in the old-fashioned way.
You can learn all about the process, as well as each producer’s individual preferences, by visiting any or all of the 17 farms that participate over the two-day celebration. The festival includes tree tapping and boiling demonstrations, as well as free samples of maple products that includes maple salad dressing, barbecue sauces, jellies, cookies, maple milkshakes and cotton candy. And my favorite part of all—a number of organizations and a few family farms serve pancake breakfasts, which you can find by looking for the pancake icon on your map. What could be better than that?
One thing to note is that the map covers a fairly large area, so you should plan your route wisely—you may not be able to make it to all of the farms, or you may be way too stuffed to fit in any more samples. GPS is a little iffy in this area, so while there are coordinates, it’s always best to follow the directions that are also listed. Some farms offer more than demonstrations and samples as well so if you have kids along, you might want to make a beeline to the places with horse rides, hayrides and mini-farm animal tours to keep them interested and awake from the impending food coma. You should also take cash—while the visits are free, a lot of the farms have stores so you can stock up on all the deliciousness to take home, and not everyone accepts credit cards.
To learn more about the Maple Festival and to get a copy of the map, visit www.pamaple.com. You can also check out more things to do while in the area by visiting www.pottertioga.com.
One more piece of advice—make sure to dress in loose-fitting layers. It’s still cold in northern PA at this time of year, but you’re going to need some room to fit in all of that sugary goodness.
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