Six Things You Didn’t Know About Maple Syrup!

I guess the “when in Rome” expression would apply to maple syrup when in Northern Minnesota, right?

I think so!

I took that sentiment and ran with it this past weekend in Vergas, Minnesota where they were holding their annual maple syrup fest. I left with a saturated sweet-tooth to say the least, with over 30 syrupy sweet submissions for tasting. What I wasn’t expecting was to get my Nerd-Girl on, and leave with a super saturated noggin as well (yeah I said noggin and nerd-girl in a sentence… what of it hehe). Moving right along, I have to share with you what I found to be the most fascinating things I learned about maple syrup at the Vergas maple syrup fest, and through the live demonstrations at the Maplewood Sate Park.

 

1. It can take anywhere from 25 to 70 years for a maple tree to grow large enough to tap

Maple trees should be anywhere between 8-12 inches before they are tapped, and depending on the growing conditions, such as over-crowding and access to nutrients, it can take a very long time before trees are ready to give up the goodies. Next time you enjoy that sticky goodness, think about the fact that it came from a tree that just might be older than you!

 

2. Warm days and freezing nights are the recipe for syrup success

It isn’t simply cold weather that maples need to flourish, unbeknownst to me, they need cold nights combined with warm days. The best conditions for maple tapping are temperatures that get around 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and just below freezing at night. This narrow temperature window is what gets the sap “running”, basically the sap settles during the night and as the temperature rises, the sap moves through the warming tree. If the tree is tapped for sap collection, that the sap will more readily flow out of the tree… and eventually into our bellies.

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Lovely Graphic of the Maplewood State Forest 2016 Sap Collection

 

3. The original method for turning sap to syrup was boiling with heated rocks

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Original Method of Maple Sap Processing

One of the coolest things I got to see was the original method of processing maple sap into a finished product! When the Native Americans first discovered the deliciously sweet liquid that comes from the maple tree, they had to figure out not only how to process it into a consumable and transportable product, but they had to do so without the metal modern contraptions of the maple industry today. The water-like sap was collected into hand carved vessels most likely made from cottonwood trees. While the sap was collecting, stones were being heated on an open fire. Once the stones were burning hot they were moved into the vessels containing sap, and the stones heated the sap to a boil. As the stones cooled they were exchanged for freshly heated stones, and that cycle continued until it was thick as syrup. The original product didn’t stop there though, because native people had nothing to transport runny syrup in, they continued heating it until it solidified into sugar cakes. Those syrup cakes were the first finished maple products!

 

 

4. Native people used a maple product to flavor their meat

Those maple sugar cakes that native people created as a final transportable product from the sweet sap, were used as a flavoring element in cooking. When meats or other foods were boiled, a piece of the sugar cake would be broken off and added to the water.

 

5. Making candy from syrup can take hours

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Cooking Up Some Candy!

To my dismay, I discovered that making maple candy is a full day affair! When I arrived to the festival, this particular batch had been cooking for over an hour and it wasn’t even finished before I left the festival. It must be cooked very slow and consistently to prevent burning, until it reaches about 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

 

 

 

6. Syrup is DELICIOUS on freshly churned ice cream

Okay, okay… this one won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this decadent combination, DO IT. Like right now, do it!

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Hard at Work!

I had a blast at the maple syrup fest, and I hope you enjoyed all my fun facts! Now I want to hear from you. What is your favorite way to eat maple syrup? Comment below, and let me know.

 

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Top 5 Reasons To Experience The Winter Farmers Market

Ithaca, NY (my current home base) is amazing for oh so many reasons! Many of those reasons I can’t wait to share with you in the soon-coming category on my blog called “Hey From HomeBase.” I’ll just start with my personal favorite thing to do in Ithaca, the Farmers Market! Ithaca’s Farmers Market is renowned, I have met people who have no idea where Ithaca is but they have heard it has an amazing market, and they heard correct. The Farmers Market is a pearl of our community; while not completely representative of all facets, it reflects the funky, eclectic, and homegrown vibe the town of Ithaca exudes. Although the Farmers Market is a local staple, some of us have no idea that its still around during the winter months. In the words of our local farmers, “YUP, we still grow food in the winter!” Here are a few reasons why you should check out the winter market this year!

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Crooked Carrot and Blue Heron Farm

Reason #5: Warm up with a cider

This is a secret obsession of mine, hot cider with a cider donut from Littletree Orchards’ stand. I love an ice cold lemonade on a hot summer’s day at the market, but all year I secretly can’t wait for it to be cold enough for hot cider! It is hands down the best, and there is nothing like it to make me feel cozy on the inside when there is snow on the ground right outside the door. They still make donuts in the winter, and they are the BOMB DIGGITY (yes I am proudly stuck in the 90s), try dunking them in a cup of cider if you want to experience what living really tastes like… enough said.

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Littletree Orchard apples

Reason #4: Plenty of time to meet the farmers

Our local farmers always try and make themselves available, but with the volume of people attending the summer market it may be difficult to get their ear for more than just a quick question. The small crowds and indoor space at the winter market allow for more opportunities to have a lengthy chat. While getting my groceries for the week, and researching for this article, I got to chat with farmers about everything from recipes for their products to what their eldest daughter and I have in common… farmers can be a chatty bunch ;). Get to the winter market, and get to know your farmers!

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Michael Burns of Cayuta Sun Farm!

Reason #3: You can enjoy it at your leisure

There is no denying that summer time is the busiest time of the year for the Ithaca  Farmers Market. On summer weekends we often have visitors from all over the country here to experience summer in the Finger Lakes, and at those times the market can feel a little overwhelming for those inclined to move at a slower pace on a Saturday morning. The winter market provides a smaller and more intimate setting, where you can peruse the different farmer’s tables several times without ever feeling rushed or crowded.

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My friend Kash’s beautiful family helping out for the day at her Balance Aromatherapy booth.

Reason #2: Get a quick summer-vibe fix

If it is cold outside, the sky is grey, and there isn’t enough money in your bank account to hop on a plane straight to Miami… the next best thing: The Winter Farmers Market! Seriously, stepping inside The Space @ Greenstar (the indoor location for the winter market), is like being served up a slice of sunshine. All the familiar summer market faces serving up your favorite market goodies with a smile. If you are a market fly, like myself, then just being in that space amongst that community, canvas tote in hand, will have you thinking summer thoughts. Every Saturday for 3 hours (11-2pm), you can shake off those winter blues!

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Can’t beat the winter market deals!

Reason #1: Cash in on those cruciferous veggies!

When you think winter market, I am certain a cornucopia of root vegetables and an array of squash come to mind. The winter market is host to the usual suspects, and so much more. The often overlooked cruciferous veggies, are in full force at the winter market and can be some of the healthiest vegetables to eat during the winter. While other vegetables’ prime season occurs during the summer, this family of plants actually protects itself from the cold by creating and storing excess sugar, putting their most peak season for flavor in the cooler months! In addition to being tasty, these veggies are also known for their wide array of potential health benefits, from cancer-fighting glucosinolates to the immense amount of vitamins they contain. Some examples from our market; radishes, rutabaga, cabbage, bok choy, kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli!

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Cruciferous Goodness!

 

From markets flowing with a rainbow assortment of veggies, to handmade craft stands, a local market can be a window into the most subtle and intimate parts of a culture. A market is the place to meet the people, taste their food, and hear their music. I truly believe that to know a place, you must walk its markets. When traveling to a new place the first decision I make is what in the world to do, and typically my very first Google search is when and where are the local markets. When anyone asks me for advice on visiting my home base in upstate NY, I always point them straight to the Ithaca Farmers Market! If you are in New York, join me this Saturday at the winter market in Ithaca. Starting in April you can catch me at the pavilion market down on the waterfront, summer is just around the corner!

Footsteps of a Nomad

Every time I travel, I bring back enough gifts to fill a separate suitcase and I think everyone should support local artists wherever they go. Yet, there are some places where the best thing to take home are just memories. Beautiful and wild places where there are no stores, no vendors, no souvenirs. For me photos are the way I can share those memories. In those wild places, those natural spaces, I leave only the trace of my footsteps and take only photographs.

This weekend I have the amazing opportunity to share my photography with my community. I will be showing my travel photos at a local brewery! If you are in the upstate area, it will be at Heavily Brewing Company in Montour Falls, NY from 4-6pm! Having this show has really gotten me to put more thought into why I travel, into why I LOVE to travel. I know this is a passion of mine, but what do I want to share with others through my photography?

As of last year, I have been to every continent aside from Antartica, and explored countless cities, towns, and villages in 10 different countries. I have a passion for exploring new cultures, and meeting people who have a completely fresh outlook on life. Two big drivers for my travels are the people I meet and the communities they create; I love how you can find similarities amongst them all and yet in other aspects we are all worlds apart. The further I travel the more I realize what a “global community” we are, and how we have a communal responsibility to protect all things natural and beautiful in our world. I share my photographs because I feel that what I capture in my images can bring the viewer closer to the beauty of the place I visited. The more connected people in this world feel to those far off lands still full of natural wonders, the more likely they are to protect them. I hope my photos inspire people to travel more, get outdoors, and celebrate the beauty of nature, culture, and tradition. From our own backyards to Amazonian waters flowing through Peruvian villages, there are still so many things natural, beautiful, and wild that need our protection.

Following the Birds South

First let me confess, I’ve been less than active when it comes to my passion of travel writing. Yet, here I am at the keyboard with new vows of dedication and rekindled fires for my dream to share my journey as I wander around this world in a state of wonder. I think an important part of this confession, for all those other aspiring travel writers reading this, is that making this dream real is NOT always easy. Before you are a successful (money-making) travel writer you have to survive somehow, and sometimes that means working 13 hour days… and at times the reason why you are working so hard gets forgotten. That’s OK! Just pick up where you left off, and don’t get down on yourself for losing focus. One step at a time is how I am going to reach my goal of becoming a full-time nomadic travel writer, but when those steps start getting wobbly and I’m not sure which way is forward and which way is back… I take a break, find myself, and refocus my passion to fuel my dreams! This time I knew I needed some sunshine, a change of scenery to kick my butt in gear, and to avoid the first snowfall in Ithaca, NY. So I flew south with the birds… well technically I drove.

I didn’t have to go far to find some sunshine.  Just about 5 and a half hours away from Ithaca, I found myself in a town that is actually the definition of quaint. Coming from what some would call a “small” town it’s not easy for me to find smaller, but I did it… in a big way! At a grand total of 88 friendly souls Hillsboro is one of the tiniest towns in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This happened to be a big weekend for this compact slice of sunshine. The weekend of  October 16th and 17th happened to be Hillsboro Heritage Day, a day packed full of local food, drinks, and crafts. Not only was it an impressive display of local talent, but also a trip back in time. This second annual festival is a benefit for the Historical Old Stone School, a centerpiece of this tight-knit community. The school, which now serves as a community center and town hall, was built in 1874, at that time called The Locust Academy was one of first public schools in Loudoun County. There was an awesome turn out to enjoy the local offerings, and watch presentations on crafts of the past like paper making, weaving, and spinning.

Hillsboro Heritage Day!

Hillsboro Heritage Day!

Amy Newton a Pillar of the Community, Dressed to Impress... if it were 1874

Amy Newton a Pillar of the Community, dressed to impress… like it was 1874! (Photo by Amie Ware)

My fun was just beginning with this weekend full of old-time Virginia festivities. My next post will be about the other ways I explored and enjoyed this lovely and welcoming town. Home to the Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast (owned by my Great Aunt), some incredible wineries, and a handful of hidden culinary gems… Hillsboro is a place you can’t judge by the size of its cover!

Enjoying what seems to be remnants of summer at the Fieldstone Farm!

Enjoying what seems to be remnants of summer at the Fieldstone Farm!