Today, Sunday March 20th, is the final day of the 2022 Maple Syrup Festival at Cunningham Falls State Park. If you are looking for a way to get outside and enjoy this first day of spring, then a day in the woods sounds perfect to me. Learn about maple syrup production in Maryland, taste some local syrup, and then burn off those calories with a hike to Cunningham Falls or a walk around the lake.
I’ve been waiting for years to get back to the Maple Syrup festival. It is one of those cherished childhood memories that has stuck with me, reinforced by the smell of pancakes and maple syrup. When I moved back to Frederick in 2020, and saw the advertisements for the 50th Anniversary of the festival those memories came back and I was so excited for it. And then COVID happened. It added two more years to my waiting.
The winter weather last weekend delayed me just a tiny bit longer. I used the snowy day to prime myself on syrup-making basics. Last year, the Friends of Cunningham Falls State Park and Gambrill State Park released a 5 part video series called Maple Mondays. The short but information-packed videos can be found on the Cunningham Falls State Park website. If you’ve got some mature maples of your own you want to tap, this video series will show you exactly how to do it, from selecting the trees and the size of the drill bit needed to tap a tree, down to measuring the density of the finished syrup using a hydrometer.
Yesterday I finally I got the satisfaction of standing next to a bubbling cauldron of sugary sap. The warm weather brought out a good-sized crowd that gathered around the boil demonstration.
The Park Ranger gave an entertaining and informative talk touching on the history of maple syrup making, how the Native Americans taught the colonists to make syrup, the tools that they would have used, and the types of trees that can be tapped for sap.
The maple tapping season in Maryland begins mid-February and runs until mid-March when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. When temperatures rise during the day, sap moves up through the tree to help with bud formation. At night, the sap flows back down into the roots below ground to avoid freezing.
They were demonstrating the traditional “batch” method of making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. At the park they boil the sap over a wood fire in a 22 gallon cast iron kettle. Maple sap is 98% water, so only 2% sugar. As the water boils and evaporates, the sugar is concentrated into syrup.
This small batch method is now mostly used by people at home in their backyards. Wouldn’t that be fun? This started me wondering…is there an artisanal craft syrup movement out there that I don’t know about? Are people boiling sap in their backyards and bottling it? I would sure like to know.
Maryland is not a top producer in the U.S. The park ranger estimated that we are number 10 or 12 in the country. The top five producing states are Vermont, New York, Maine, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Given that we are at the southern-most border of the maple producing area, which is mainly Northeastern US and Canada, I am thankful that Maple Sugar Camps even exist in our state.
In most years of the festival, they serve pancakes and sausage. This year, however, the concession stand is under construction, so no pancakes. They did have light snacks available at the Nature Center. A small plate of waffle dippers were sufficient vehicles for soaking up maple syrup and getting it into my mouth, although I do admit to drinking what was left in the little cup. Maybe I didn’t need the waffles after all? Or the hot apple cider to wash it down. I probably should have just sipped syrup straight from the jug.
It was a beautiful spring day, so I joined the families strolling around the lake on the Storybook Trail. Pages from the children’s book “Maple Syrup from the Sugarhouse” guide the way along the trail, illustrating how maple syrup is made. These delighted me so much that I’ve sprinkled images of the book throughout this article.
It is also an easy half mile hike to Cunningham Falls. There were plenty of Park Staff around to answer question and guide you in the right direction to the trail.
Maryland-made maple syrup was available for purchase at a wagon next to the parking area. The syrup for sale is produced by S&S Maple Camp in Corriganville, which is the largest maple syrup producer in Maryland.
I finally had my Maryland maple syrup, but I still wanted pancakes. Thank goodness for that Maple Mondays video series. Episode 5 is called “Perfect Pancakes”.
This recipe for perfect pancakes is taken exactly from the video. I have just listed the ingredients for your (and my) convenience because the video moves fast. As for how to make perfect pancakes, watch the video. It will show you exactly what to do. They are the experts.
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar
The batter thickened and puffed up in the bowl while I waited for the griddle to heat. In my hands, using the recommendation of 1/4 cup batter per pancake, this recipe made a dozen 4-inch pancakes.
I have to say that these were the fluffiest, best pancakes that I have ever made. The leftovers went into the freezer so I have a supply ready to use my Maryland maple syrup anytime.
So if you are in the Frederick area today and don’t know what to do with yourself, head to the mountains. I can’t think of a better way to spend the first day of spring.
For more information:
Maple Syrup Festival 2022
Cunningham Falls State Park
William Houck Area
14039 Catoctin Hollow Road Thurmont, MD 21788