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A little girl's love of making maple syrup at age 6 has resulted five decades later in a gem of a museum. The Hurry Hill Farm Maple Museum near Edinboro celebrates the centuries-old sweet craft that is still taking place in that area.
Janet Woods, a retired Erie and Crawford County public school principal and teacher, had the good idea and ran with it.
Her museum, next to the Fry Road farm where she grew up, is an extension of her lifelong desires to share sugaring and to preserve the region's heritage. Her early efforts included setting up displays of maple-sugaring antiques in the tiny original sugar house next to the larger one her father built in 1958, as well as doing non-stop demonstrations during the Maple Taste & Tour Weekend. The current museum debuted during last year's weekend (this year's is March 20-21).
Now under the direction of volunteer museum specialist Theresa Gamble, the charming new site is quietly winning praise. Visitors are leaving comments such as "what a beautiful museum, inspiring and uplifting" and "so great that you are preserving this for the future."
"Education is key," maintains Ms. Woods, who funds the museum herself. "Making maple syrup combines science, environmental education, agriculture, history, math, reading and the chance for camaraderie."
The museum features exhibits and displays showing how Native Americans made maple sugar, how early settlers produced it and how current sugar makers do. It appeals to young and old alike.
From "Tree to Table," the progression of displays document the syrup-making history of the Edinboro area through photos, records and videos. One exhibit is a "running" tree with a collection bucket and a tree trunk where children can practice tapping. Another shows the science of how trees use sap.
"The children catch on quickly that sap and not syrup comes from trees," says environmental educator Heather Zimmerman, a volunteer who designs the children's exhibits and activities. "Grandparents who make syrup come with their grandchildren and add information to my talks. The inter-generational exchange is great."
For little ones, there are paper crafts and a maple leaf toss. Nearby, a pyramid of buckets shows the ratio of sap to syrup.
Also on display is a miniature evaporator used in boiling sap down to the prized amber liquid. The model allows visitors to see how the equipment works without the steam and sap that obscure the pans during boiling. The museum has a range of antique syrup containers, candy molds, pitchers and advertising items that Ms. Gamble has displayed in an old-fashioned kitchen.
A key facet is Ms. Woods' deep interest in "Miracles on Maple Hill," the children's classic by Virginia Sorensen that is set in the Edinboro area. "We can teach the science of making maple syrup, but Virginia Sorensen wrote about the art of sugar making," says Ms. Woods. Ms. Sorensen lived here in the 1950s when her then-husband taught at Edinboro University. Her 1956 novel won the 1957 Newbery Medal, which the author's family has allowed to be displayed at the museum.
Antique maple items find their way to the museum. Angie Horvath of Edinboro came across a little wooden candy box dated about 1913 with "Sweetest Story Ever Told" written on it. "I immediately thought that I wanted to give it to Janet." Through another local syrup producer, Ms. Woods found an antique wooden gathering trough from the mid 1800s.
Hurry Hill Farm still makes maple syrup. Some has made its way to England. Customers Julia and Bob Eagle of Erie have standing orders from family there. The couple hosted a 17-year-old relative who sailed on Flagship Niagara for a month, and sent him home with three quarts of syrup, pancake mix, maple sugar and maple sugar candy. "On a visit to England, Bob's sister handed him an empty container and asked if we could refill it," Julia Eagle said with a laugh.
With the maple syrup's pure goodness, the Hurry Hill Farm Maple Museum and events like the Taste & Tour Weekend, sugaring is going to be around so that more memories can be made and shared.
"Sugaring is about the end of winter and the coming of spring," Ms. Woods says. "Americans have always liked maple syrup, and I think more than that, they enjoy the tradition. When neighbors see the steam rising from the woods, they know the season is under way, and they start showing up."
Hurry Hill Farm Maple Museum, 11380 Fry Road, Edinboro, is part of the Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association's Maple Taste & Tour Weekend, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 20-21. Thirteen maple syrup producers open their sugar houses; maple syrup and products are for sale. For more info: pamaple.org.
The Edinboro Historical Society will hold its first Maple Festival the same weekend at the Edinboro Volunteer Fire Department, 145 Meadville St. From 10 a.m to 4 p.m. both days, there'll be pancakes and sausage and local maple syrup, an arts and crafts sale and music. Tickets are $7 adults, $3 children 12 and under. Details: 1-814-734-3562 or edinborohistory.org.
Maple Ham Breakfast Sandwiches
These are good served with fresh fruit and hot coffee.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, warmed slightly
- Chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
- 1/4 cup of chopped, dried cranberries
- 4 slices brioche, challah or other buttery, egg bread
- 4 thin slices of ham
Mix together butter and maple syrup. Add nuts and cranberries and spread on 2 slices of bread, topping with ham and remaining 2 slices of bread. Cut each sandwich in half.
Makes 2 sandwiches.
- Hurry Hill Farm
Paulette Dininny is a freelance writer. First Published March 11, 2010 5:00 AM