Tapping Into Spring’s Sweetness

The other day, I decided to cook some pheasant breast that a coworker gave me from his hunting trip. I cubed it, tossed it in a pan with a splash of maple syrup, and sautéed it to perfection, adding some pan-fried celery and sweet potato.

That may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients because maple syrup is commonly paired with pancakes and waffles. It’s not often enjoyed with yogurt or ice cream, let alone meats and root vegetables. Even the pairing of maple and bourbon is only a recent fad.

This is unfortunate, because maple syrup is far tastier than most sugars, has fewer calories than honey, and contains manganese and zinc, both of which are great for the immune system.

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What’s better still is that it’s harvested and produced throughout Northeast Ohio. Starting as early as February, all types of maple-related events pop up at parks, farms, and towns. From pancake breakfasts during maple sugaring weekends at Lorain County Metro Parks’ Carlisle Reservation to a maple syrup festival at Richland County’s Malabar Farm State Park with maple demonstrations, maple products, and live entertainment.

And the largest, oldest, and best-known of all these events takes place in Chardon’s charming downtown square, where the Geauga County Maple Festival has been celebrated since 1926.

Although the festival takes place in late April, a time when Ohio still wavers between winter and spring, thousands of maple lovers attend faithfully.

Some come to learn about the maple culture, reading about the county’s maple history, browsing through the displays of tree taps and buckets, and watching the sap being boiled down. But this boiling process is a long one, and the final product is usually 1/30th of the original tapped volume. Therefore, the festival also offers plenty of other maple-related activities over the weekend including Pancakes in the Park, the Lumberjack Competition, the Sap Run, and the Maple Syrup Auction.

Nearby you’ll find a sugar shack where you can take part in the maple stir. This process involves taking a popsicle stick and stirring an ounce of hot syrup poured into a bowl. As the syrup begins to cool and stiff en, it magically turns from translucent amber syrup into a waxy creamy mixture. The transformed version of the syrup is a tasty treat.

For a festival this early in the year, you might be surprised to find amusement rides lighting up and spinning just in front of Chardon’s city hall. Ride tickets can be purchased individually, but wristbands could be worth the cost if you plan to stay a while.

Even with all the entertainment, the majority of attendees come for my favorite part of the festival—the festival marketplace. Under a large tent, local vendors sell not only their own tapped, boiled, and bottled maple syrup, but also an entire assortment of maple products that include maple candies, maple sugar, maple cotton candy, maple barbecue sauces, and even maple dog biscuits.

Be sure not to leave without a personal supply of syrup to take home to create delicious culinary delights such as maple-buttered popcorn, maple shrimp tempura with fried rice, maple salmon, maple doughnuts, and don’t forget the maple pheasant. Because it was that good!