Monday, 6 April 2009

Holstein Maplefest

The small-town food-festival season has officially begun! Saturday saw a number of maple festivals take place. This year, we opted to go to Holstein; the village with the kind of volunteer event-organizing skills that could be used to take over the world, if they wanted. Fortunately, they seem to be a pretty laid-back and friendly bunch. (Actually I kind of wish they would. They'd do a lot better job than the current crew; that seems certain.)

Holstein is the only tiny village I know of with a large municipal parking lot. They need it, and make good use of it. We parked and boarded one of the several standard maple syrup festival hay wagons for the trip to the bush. However, they also had a school bus making the circuit for those who couldn't hack the wind - and the wind whipping across the open fields was pretty brutal, even though it wasn't - in theory - that cold.

We jounced across a large, windy (did I mention that!?) corn field towards the site of the festival. Gigantico tent ahoy! Warning: unlike other maple festivals I have been to, Holstein charges an admission fee. $7 for adults, children under 12 free.

Before we got to the tent, we passed a number of stations which allowed you to try such old-fashioned treats as sawing a log with a straight saw, or log rolling. Being old geezers, we wandered on past these.

The tent turned out not to be the main event, although it housed a lively pair of musicians and a number of displays for local groups.

We continued on down the lane into the sugar bush, which turned out to be in a charming, sheltered hidden valley. You can see the blue tubing running throughout the bush. No old-fashioned buckets here; this is a thoroughly modern maple farm.

As we got to the bottom of the valley, a series of sturdy wooden buildings came into view.

OooOO! They put these guys out here on purpose, for sure! Marketing genius. Those were some delicious smelling sausages, but we are self-disciplined*, so we walked around and looked at everything else before we succumbed.

The woodlot was spread with hay to keep it from becoming a mucky mess, and it was lovely to walk around in, being so sheltered. In spite of the snow, we were perfectly warm.

This young man was in charge of producing taffy. Here he is handing out sticks to a hopeful crowd.

Next, the boiled syrup is poured over a bed of crushed ice, where it quickly firms up enough to be scooped up with the aforementioned sticks.

Next door were some demonstrations of more old style kitchen skills. This young woman was churning butter in a rather unusual butter-churn,

and this one was making ice-cream.

Here's a little display of the stages between cream and butter, as well as some washed and stamped butter pats.

Oh, now this smells good! Smoked bacon and sausage...

... right out of the smokehouse! (And it was good, too!)

There were a few trees being tapped with buckets, just to show how it used to be done.

And a kettle of syrup over an open fire.

Here's where all those blue tubes converge.

Vast amounts of sap flow through their stainless steel collections system, as it goes through the process of being reduced to 1/40th or 1/50th of the original volume.

Much of that happens in the "Silver Bullet" behind this man, who was on hand to explain how it all works and answer questions about the maple syrup making process. There was no sap flowing at the time as it was too cold out. In spite of the process now being very mechanized, it has to be supervised at all times when the sap is flowing. Working hours during sap season are therefore long and variable, and very weather dependant.

Here we see how maple syrup was converted to sugar by the First Nations people. (They were just using sap here; but originally it would have been boiled down to syrup first, and the final conversion to sugar would have been done by the addition of hot rocks. This allowed a much higher level of control over a rather tricky process - especially when you are doing it without metal or even glazed pottery vessels.)

The fire in which the rocks were heated, and the steaming trough of sap. Lots of little fires and smoke here - we left smelling slightly sweet, sausagy and smokey.

There were a few farm animals on display - a cow; a large cage with rabbits and pigeons, and this charming little hut full of an eclectic mix of chickens. Why do I find myself thinking of Baba Yaga's hut?

There was a blacksmith, doing some blacksmithing.

Aaaand finally we heeded the call of the sausages and pancakes. We got the "Hungry Man" plate, with 3 pancakes, 4 sausages and a double scoop of beans, for $8. (Not each! We shared it. Yeah, restraint.)

And damn, but yes, that was some mighty fine sausage. The smoky cooking technique made up for the fact that it was a tad over-cooked (it was actually quite lean) with a rich, bacon-y flavour. We didn't buy any sausage on the spot, but I wanted to record the source for, um, posterity.

Then, replete, we tottered back up the hill.

We bought some Kettle Korn (sweet and salty) to console ourselves for the fact that our outing was over, jounced back over the fields and headed home.

* Snicker, snort.

Last year at this time we visited the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival.


Joanne said...

This looks like so much fun! I wish there were events like that in and around Boston, or that I had a car to drive to the ones that are farther away.

Al said...

Great review and photos! I could easily imagine being there.

From my experience there's still a lot of personal-use syrup being produced by traditional bucket and boil methods. With ever increasing syrup prices, why not tap a few trees if you have access to them?
It is really hard work though, and you need to be free and available when the season strikes. You must work with the weather.

I've kept an online directory of Maple Syrup Festivals in Southern Ontario for the last few years. Your post has convinced me to spend the time to include links to reviews too.

Globe Urban

sdrv said...

Great photos!

Looks like it was a lot of fun!

Clivia said...

Great photos and story. I wish I'd gotten out of Toronto this year to go to a maple festival.
I always enjoy your blog stories and recipes!

Ferdzy said...

Thanks, guys; it was indeed a lot of fun.

Al, thanks for the link.

Mallory Elise said...

that's amazing, i'd love to see that some day :)

nooschi said...

Great pics. Makes me crave maple syrup. I may head over to a sugar bush this weekend because of this post!

Kevin said...

Looks like fun! I just went to a maple festival. Unfortunately there was no snow when I went so I could not try the maple chilled in the snow.