The slow transition from winter to spring means one thing for volunteers at the Caesar Creek Pioneer Village: maple syrup.
“I think people take a lot of pride in it because it’s local,” said Caesar Creek Park naturalist Erin Shaw, when this publication visited in 2016.
The Maple Syrup and Pancake Brunch is an annual event that, Shaw added, has been a part of the village for a “long time.” Along with the brunch, guests can also go on tours which explain the syrup-making process.
Shaw said that Ohio, along with Vermont, is among the country’s top producers of maple syrup. Ohio has “a good sugar maple crop,” she said, adding that, at Caesar Creek, approximately 100 maple trees are tapped.
“There’s an art and a science to it,” Shaw said.
The 2016 Maple Syrup and Pancake Brunch was held on March 19 and 20. The tours were ongoing, and began with a 12-minute video in the village’s schoolhouse. There, guests sat on primitive benches, with a projector screen in front of them and a toasty fire behind them.
The video described the history of maple syrup, from its many uses by Native Americans to its place on modern-day grocery store shelves.
Syrup is gathered when “winter’s almost over,” as described by the video’s child narrators. The trees are tapped and the sap collected. The video defined sap as mostly water with “a little bit of maple sweetness.”
As the water inside the tree melts, the sap drips through the tap and into collection buckets. The sap is then taken to sugar houses, where it is boiled and filtered until the final end product, which can include: syrup, with some water remaining; maple cream, with less water; or maple sugar, with no water at all.
The video ended by describing the health benefits of maple syrup, saying that it contains calcium and other important minerals. Syrup, the video added, is “natural and pure and delicious for sure.”
Following the video, a guide waited to begin the tour. Bill Lindaur, an Ohio certified volunteer naturalist, led guests into the nearby woods and further explained the tapped trees and local sap.
He then led them to the village’s own sugar house. There, volunteers Al Stapleton and Terry Johnson explained the way they make maple syrup.
Unlike commercial maple syrup, which is made through reverse osmosis, the syrup at Caesar Creek is made over a wood fire. It is filtered by passing it through a cheese cloth three times, which will “take out about 99 percent” of the debris, Johnson said. It is then filtered one final time through a felt-like material.
Stapleton described the overall process, saying that the sap must be “steam(ed)… off slowly.”
“It will smell very good in here when you’re cooking the maple syrup,” Johnson added.
They also discussed the process of gathering sap. The maple trees, Johnson said, “will heal themselves” after the tapping. However, next year, harvesters should tap the tree three inches away from the previous year’s hole.
“If you’re careful, the tree will live for a long, long time,” Johnson said.
He added that, from start to finish, making maple syrup is a “labor of love.”
Following the trip to the sugar house, guests could stroll through the rest of the village. At the Bullskin Inn, a pancake brunch, served with the village’s own maple syrup, was available.
In the Hawkins Cabin, house mother Patty Frazee made waffles over an open hearth. Assisted by volunteer Bobbi McLaughlin, Frazee poured the from-scratch batter into a waffle iron and then set it in the hearth, where it was warmed by the fire.
During the pioneer days, Frazee said, a waffle iron “would have been a perfect gift” for young couples.
Waffle or wafer parties, she added, were a common winter event, where neighbors could gather and, possibly, meet future husbands and wives.
Other key sites at the village include a blacksmith shop, general store, meetinghouse, and other family cabins. One, the Heighway Cabin, was once considered among the oldest inhabited cabins in Ohio.
Sarah Allen is a freelance journalist in southern Ohio. When she’s not writing, she can be found scrapbooking, reading or cooking.