Maple syrup time is here. I love sugar. I know there are some people who do not have that gene, but it’s okay, because I have double to make up for it. And you can’t get much better than sugar that flows from trees, unless of course it’s falling from the skies ( or personally stolen from a bee or two). And lucky for me, there are others that share my enthusiasm. Wakarusa, a small town in northern Indiana, has an annual Maple Syrup Festival that spans three entire days to celebrate the sticky stuff.
I usually go to the festival every other year or so. The weather can be freezing, with scattered snowflakes or sunny and summer like, because spring in Northern Indiana is anything but predictable. Last year turned out to be gorgeously beautiful and light jacket weather, which meant that everybody and their mother came to the festival . I don’t even think the town has as many people living there as I saw that day, so everyone must have been coming from the hills. It definitely made the day seem festive.
For the first time, I was there for the parade, which might of been part of the reason there were so many people there. I’m not sure what comes to mind for most when the words parade are mentioned, but in these parts it means motorcycles and tractors. Both were represented well. There was a smattering of other vehicles, such as some classic cars and an armored vehicle from the National Guard, but it really was mostly tractors and motorcycles. And of course, why not, since both are used every day (weather permitting) around here?
After the parade everyone heads to the main road filled with vendor booths and activities. My first stop was to grab some local maple syrup. You can go to some of the nearby stores and get it for probably the same price, but somehow it tastes better when you know you are getting the genuine Festival syrup.
If you’re not familiar with these parts, it might surprise you that the majority of syrup at the festival is farmed, made and sold by Amish. So if you are a tourist, you might just want to stop by to gawk at the Amish selling their wares. I think they would be happier if you bought some, but whatever floats your boat. Buy the syrup if you can, though, because you will not regret it. It tastes wonderful.
Another yearly tradition is to sample some of the free popcorn they have during the festival. It’s hard to believe, but it really is free. Last year the local bank sponsored the kernels I ate, or at least the bag the popcorn was in, since their name was written all over it. Some nice boys scouts hand it out, and since it was not freezing out, the popcorn was still warm as well as fresh. I always expect it to be kettle corn ( a local favorite), but alas, free popcorn has its limits. Still great, though.
If you want to soak in the local charm, stop by one of the stores offering demos of wood carving. Or just stop and look through windows, and you might happen to see some live chicks in the window, hatched and displayed just because they are cute and fuzzy. I mean why not?
Something new for me was the giant bubble hamster balls you can roll in, if that sort of thing interests you. They bubbles are contained by a wading pool, so your days of reliving your favorite childhood pet dreams are a little limited.
The other food won’t disappoint. There was an Italian sausage booth sponsored by the local Mennonite Church, featuring sausage, of course. Also, there was a food truck with the world’s largest kettle of chili on it that looked tempting. I opted to try something I had never heard before: Maple Cotton Candy. The regular sweet cotton is treated with some maple sugar, a possible byproduct of maple syrup, to infuse the light delicate flavor into the classic sugar taste. I tell you, they have a winner with this one. If you ever get a chance to sample it, I highly recommend it. It’s of course sweet, (obviously) but simply delicious with the maple undertone.
Another favorite booth was a local woodworking shop that features skateboards that are breathtakingly beautiful. After getting over the shock of seeing something so traditionally urban in rural farm country, I instantly wanted to buy one, and then go out and break my neck trying to use it. It certainly makes me extremely jealous and want to take up a new hobby. Huff & Puff Board Co are doing something right.
There is a lot more you could do at the festival. Over the full three days, there are dozens of activities that I did not get to do on my short morning I was there last year. I noticed on their Facebook page they are already advertising their annual maple baking contest ( what do I have to do to be a judge?) They have Sugar Camps that show how the syrup is made, and this year upcoming they are featuring a real interactive lumberjack show. I think logrolling is involved somehow, which sounds fantastically fun. I can just imagine myself thinking I can do it then falling flat on my face. So if you happen to be near Wakarusa in late April, I highly recommend stopping by and getting your maple syrup and a few memories to boot.