As we rounded the path to the 1880’s farm house, the first thing my daughter saw was the swing. Her eyes lit up as she ran to it, while I spotted the crackling fire underneath a giant outdoor stove. We came to Slate Run Living Historical Farm to live and learn the process of making maple syrup, a breakfast favorite at our house.
Ohio is one of the top maple syrup producers in the country, and we were excited to see how this would all unfold. Our tour guide, Dave, rounded up our group of about 20 men, women and children, and began our tour with some beginner maple facts. As our boots crunched along in the crisp winter afternoon, he delighted in telling us all about the beginnings of maple syrup in America. A few centuries ago, it was very expensive to have cane sugar imported and more economical to tap a tree in your own yard. Settlers soon learned which trees were best for yielding sap (sugar maple) and also that they should plant them close to their house for easy transport of the sap buckets to the kitchen.
On the trail to the area with the maple trees, known as the sugar bush, we learned how to identify various trees without their leaves. Tapping season happens when the leaves are gone. As they happily skipped along with moms, dads, and nana, the kids pointed out all kinds of sights to be seen at Slate Run. Chickens, the big red barn and soon enough, trees with shiny silver buckets hanging from them!
The group closed in tightly to see if the sap was flowing. The weather this season was not kind to sap production, so we did not see a typical dripping tap that would yield bucket after bucket. But, the questions and chatter diminished as we all listened for the “plink!” in the bucket. Yes, the sap was flowing slowly!
We were allowed to taste a drop straight from the tree. It was as clear as water, and tasted vaguely sweet. Next, Dave selected another tree to tap. With a few jokes about cordless drills and some oohs and aahs from the crowd, we had a new tap, ready to fill the next bucket.
Back at the house, we went into the authentic 1880’s kitchen, where there were samples of everything from start to finish. The kitchen ladies were dressed in their era-appropriate dresses and suggested we try the sap first, then the syrup and lastly the crystalized maple sugar and some gingerbread made with the sugar.
I was apprehensive, as I typically don’t like pure maple syrup at restaurants. But after listening to Dave’s maple talk, I knew that this small-batch farm syrup would not be “grade A” as often sold in stores in fancy packaging. That grade A is more clear, much sweeter and has less of a maple-flavor. This lovely dark syrup was decadent and rich, and I would have bottled it up to go! Other visitors’ faces matched my surprised look, as we agreed that it was much better than we expected.
After taking a look at the educational material displayed around the homestead, we took a self-guided tour of the farm to see everything else Slate Run has to offer, including Percheron horses, ducks, sheep and corn grinding. We set out for home with dirty boots, happy tastebuds and a connection to Ohio’s agricultural past.
Sitting on the porch and seeing my daughter’s smile left no doubt that today was a great day.
P.S. — Hueston Woods State Park hosts a Maple Syrup Festival every year in March!
Guest Blog written by Stacie Osborne.