Many Western Pennsylvanians would be surprised at how many sugarhouses get to steaming here this time of year.
Last year, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Pennsylvania ranked seventh among the top maple-producing states with 134,000 gallons of syrup (4 percent of the country's total production).
This year, the season is running late, as there has only been a day or two so far when the temperatures have warmed up enough for the sap to start flowing from the roots into the branches of the sugar-maple trees. "We are concerned," says Bill Phillips, president of the Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Producers Association.
That's because for the 11th season, that group is soon holding its annual open house: the Taste & Tour Weekend. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16, you're welcome to visit Mr. Phillips' and friends' Ft. LeBoeuf Maple Syrup near Waterford and up to 16 other producers in Crawford, Erie, Warren and Venango counties. Depending on the weather, many of them will be demonstrating how sap is collected and turned into syrup, and most will be sampling and selling a range of maple goodies (Ft. LeBoeuf will be offering pancakes with syrup, maple cookies, maple mustard and more.)
"We may not have a whole lot of product to sell," says Mr. Phillips, but the forecast called for another warm-up this weekend that could allow them to collect some sap. This wouldn't be the first time they didn't get going until the second week of March. As he puts it, "We have our fingers crossed. You know, this is agriculture."
Find a list of member producers as well as a list of producers on the tour with a map at http://pamaple.org/tour.html/
This time of year, there are plenty of maple events in the region, including:
Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley is holding its Eighth Annual Pancake Breakfast and Maple Sugaring Celebration on Saturday, March 8. From 8:30 a.m. to noon, you can enjoy a breakfast of traditional or buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup from the Beaver County Conservation District, sausage and a drink for $9 for adults and $7 for children age 3 to 12 (younger children eat free). There are seatings every half hour at the center and on the hour at the Sewickley Heights History Center. There'll be a maple-sugaring exhibit, bonfire, children's activities and more. Tickets can be purchased at fhnc.org, by calling 412-741-6136, or at the door.
The 37th-annual Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 5 and 6, at Bradys Run Lodge in Fallston. The all-your-can-eat buttermilk- or buckwheat-pancake breakfasts are $8 for adults and $4 for children 12 and younger. Otherwise, admission is free and includes maple demonstrations, children's activities and souvenirs including syrup and ground-on-site wheat, buckwheat and corn meal (724-378-1701).
The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania once again presents "Maple Madness" -- at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel on March 22 and at nearby Succop Conservancy on March 29.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., during which you can walk and learn about maple sugaring and sample syrup and dig into a pancake breakfast. (Breakfast is $10, or $6 for members, and reservation times are 10, 10:30, 11 and 11:30 am, plus noon, 12:30 and 1 p.m.). Get more information and reserve at aswp.org/calendar/MapleMadness.html or 412-963-6100.
The 67th Pennsylvania Maple Festival takes over the Somerset County town of Meyersdale March 29-30 and April 2-6. It's $5 for adults and $1 for children ages 6-12 to get into Maple Festival Park, and a bit more ($5 adults, $3 students 12 and older) to attend the "Legend of the Magic Water" historical pageant. But the mapleness spreads around the town, where pancakes and syrup and sausage and other eats are served. There's everything from auto, tractor and quilt shows to a Maple Queen contest and a 5K run. See the full schedule at pamaplefestival.com or call 1-814-634-0213.
Bob Batz Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org)