|A sure sign of Spring in the Trent Hills area is the Maple Syrup Festival out at Sandy Flats just North and West out of Warkworth ON. The sap in the Maple trees won’t start running until the temperatures peek consistently above freezing. Now the snow, as always, still lingers but at least there is no downpour like last year.The other marker for the Maple Syrup Festival is March break . It is a week off from school for the kids and so parents are on the look out for things to do, places to see and and fun events to take the whole family to. As described below, the Maple Syrup Festival is more than obliging.
So I and my niece found ourselves in a school bus for the first time in a long time accompanied by a whole bunch of little rascals all of whom seemed to have the most rakish of sunglasses on – but that is another story. You can drive directly to the Festival, but the bus trip alleviates the cost plus rough and tumble roadway. One slight problem – the school bus amplifies the rough and tumble but you can’t beat nostalgia. After arriving at the festival and paying our $4 tithe (kids 12 and under get in free), we bypassed the $7 per person line-up for pancake breakfast (or brunch) in order to get a look at the lie of the land. And of course the first view was a mound of snow where various groups of kids were playing either explorer or King of the Hill.
|However in the midst of the courtyard surrounded by the cookhouse, the country store and the covered stage, sits the 3 to 4 distillery buildings used to distill raw watery sap into sweet maple syrup And the Festival had both the old fashioned boiling pot and the new stainless steel sieved burners in action – showing how syrup was made about 100 years ago and how it is made now. The common denominator between a while ago and now is the cords of wood used to fire both the old hanging pots(vast, black and straight out of my visions of Macbeth’s witches “boil, boil, toil and trouble”) and the gleaming stainless steel of the modern distillery. So I took a tour of the distillery while the entertainment got started on the covered stage.Fun in these parts is a mix of country music, country step dancing including not a few Scottish flings and even a little musical fun with the Bangelino – P. G. Wodehouse would surely approve the latter. With pancake picnic tables surrounding the stage, Festival goers had the choice of chatting or swaying to the C+M rhythms (or both). I chose party time and envied the the country dancers.|
|The Festival takes advantage of the natural beauty of the Sandy Flats with its triumph hardwood forest. So there are horse drawn wagon rides through the woods to trace out some of the web of piping used to tap into and collect the sap runoff from all the surrounding sugar maples. As is to be expected, maples dominate the forest but one can find hemlock, oaks, and a few birch and aspen. But the long lived and generally taller oaks and maples tend to predominate. So the canopy of the forest is 60-80 feet high. These wood heights provide plenty of nestling sites for a wide variety of birds some of which wintered over and already a few waxwings, blue jays and cardinals interspersed with smaller wrens and finches were starting to dart about. But I talked to a birder who said the usual aviary turnout was a little thin. You could have fooled me.|
|The Maple Syrup Festival offers a lot of other family activities. There are petting zoos both in town right next to the Warkworth Library and at the Sand Flats site. There are crooning contests on the stage; but my personal favorite is the sawing contest in the courtyard. As you can see in the picture below teams of two are timed for how long they take to saw a birch log about 8 inches in diameter. It looks simple enough, but the trick is to pull evenly and just lightly push back keeping a steady rhythm. The two gals below, Megan and Kate, certainly got the rhythm right. This was great fun and bragging rights were to be found all over the courtyard.|
|Supporting the Festival is a staff from all around Trent Hills and Warkworth. In two days they will serve nearly 5000 pancakes, sausages and hot maple syrup. Now in my college days I used to work in the kitchen at Mary Markley Hall where we prepared meals for just over 400 students per day – and that was a daunting cooking and cleanup task – so I was not surprised to see over 30 staff huddled over more than a dozen grills producing sausages and flapjacks at a steady pace right into the late afternoon when we finally departed for the bus trip home.
But what did surprise me was not only the consummate good will of the crew but also their knowledge and interests. I met a sailor who was taking advantage of the nearby Bay of Quinte, an ice fisherman who my brother-in-law would easily enjoy telling fish tails with, and a flapjack flipper who imparted all her tricks for making sure the pancakes were delectably light-bronzed despite a grill which of course had a hot spot just left of center. In short this is a cooking crew of good spirits that reminded me of the same fun and good will of Mary Markley Hall kitchen days. There is a natural high in preparing a good meal and it was certainly evident here. Yet on TV cooking is portrayed almost as a blood sport of mortal combat among the chefs. They should check the out the milieu created by large heapings of good will.
|So here is the end result of all the work – fresh maple syrup to be ladled onto sausages and flaps – it makes my mouth water right now. And if you missed the feast, there is always next Spring to look forward to or check out Sandy Flats – they keep running on the weekends (The Masonic Lodge have a public feast coming up March 28-29th 2009) through to nearly the end of April – as long as the sap keeps running. And back in Warkworth there is the Spirit of the Hills/Maple Syrup Art Exhibition along with nearly a dozen stores and galleries with various arts and crafts on display.|