Late Winter Secrets and Promises, by Pat Williamsen

The first time I went to a sugar camp, I took along my seven-year-old grandson. It was a day filled with firsts–first excursion with Grandma, first time petting a draft horse, first time that it was okay to get his boots muddy, first time eating maple sugar cotton candy. Along with these unique bits of fun came an understanding that the food we eat begins not in the grocery store, but on land tended by farmers.

I made Aidan promise not to tell Grandpa about the cotton candy.

Nearly every maple tree was festooned with spigots and plastic hoses to siphon the sap into large holding tubs. It was quiet, as only winter woods can be–the only sounds were the crackle of the horse harness and an occasional whispered question about when we’d get to taste some maple syrup. Bundled up against the cold, even the shacks where the sap was being boiled down seemed frosty, but the smell inside was so delightful, we didn’t care. Earthy, smoky, sweet aromas perfumed the air, suggesting promises of family meals in a warm kitchen.

Share that magic with your family this year by visiting a sugar shack to bring home memories–and Ohio maple syrup.

Many of the maple sugar festivals usually held in February or March have been postponed this year, but you can visit farms where maple sap is made into to syrup. The Maple Producers of Northeast Ohio lists twenty places to visit in that corner of the state. Northern Ohio Tourism offers a comprehensive list of maple attractions that can be found in all corners of the state. I was surprised to learn there are sugar- makers within just a few miles of my home in central Ohio. Just be sure to check farm websites or call ahead to make sure the sugaring operation is open when you want to visit.

Maple syrup is unique to North America. The species of maple trees that produce sugar sap are found only in northeast United States and Southeastern Canada. In Ohio, about 900 sugar-makers produce 100,000 gallons of maple syrup each year. Depending on the weather, sugar season runs from mid-February until early April.

Aidan has yet to tell my husband about the maple sugar cotton candy we shared that day. Twenty years later, it’s still a sweet secret.

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