When you see those dark spots on roadways from the sap dripping from maple tree branches, it’s time to smile. Those spots mean that the sap that becomes the liquid gold known as maple syrup is running. March is generally maple sugaring season, so for lovers of all things maple, we are highlighting our favorite maple products and maple-related events.
Maple Syrup Festivals
If you want to celebrate maple season or just learn more about how maple sugaring is done, there are several area festivals you can visit:
Maple Sugar Festival, March 11 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, 7000 N. Westnedge Ave. You can see syrup being made at this annual event, which includes a sugaring tour, live music, a pancake breakfast, tours of the DeLano Farm and more. It’s also the center’s largest fundraising event of the year. For more information, visit naturecenter.org/programs/maplesugarfestival.
Michigan’s Premiere Maple Syrup Festival — March 18–19 and 25–26 at Maple Row Sugarhouse, 12646 Born St., Jones (49 miles southwest of Kalamazoo). It promises to celebrate “everything great about maple syrup,” with demonstrations of making maple products and food offerings including maple donuts, maple pulled pork and maple-seasoned fries. For more information, go to michiganmaplefestival.com.
The Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival, April 28–30 in Vermontville (47 miles northeast of Kalamazoo). This festival has been around since 1940, with local syrup producers set up throughout the village to sell syrup, candies, crème and other treats. There are also carnival rides, a talent show, arts and crafts, a flea market, two parades, a petting zoo and more activities. To learn more, go to syrupfest.org.
Pure Maple Sugar
Sprinkle it on your oatmeal or yogurt, use it in baking or try it as a spice rub for meats. The options are abundant when it comes to using this natural sweetener. It’s made by boiling maple syrup until it forms granulated sugar crystals, resulting in a sugar infused with maple flavor. The 4-ounce shaker-size container of maple sugar produced by Jack & Jill’s Maple Hill Farm, in Paw Paw, can be found for $6.99 at PFC Natural Grocery & Deli, 507 Harrison St. It’s the ideal size to try.
Michigan Maple Weekend
This event is sponsored by the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. It occurs March 18–19 in southern Lower Michigan, March 25–26 in northern Lower Michigan, and April 1–2 in the Upper Peninsula. On these weekends, sugarbushes (groves of maple trees that are tapped for their sap) will be open to folks wanting to experience the magic of maple sugaring firsthand. You can witness the work it takes, from tapping trees and running miles and miles of tubing to harvesting the sap and boiling it down to make syrup, candy and sugar. The nearest participants are Butternut Creek Sugar Shack, at 24890 Flach Road, in Mendon (southeast of Vicksburg); Ty-Cat Sugar Shack, at 19465 Cleveland Ave., in Galien (southwest of Niles); and Sugar Shack at Heritage Park, at 121 Tefft St., in Hanover (southwest of Jackson). For a complete map of participants and information on hours, visit michiganmaple.org/michigan-maple-weekend.
Spirit-infused Maple Syrups
Just when you don’t think maple syrup can get any better, Doodle’s Sugarbush, in Blanchard, has found a way with their spirit-infused syrup varieties. The company ages Grade A maple syrup for up to 18 months in barrels used for aging bourbon, rum and rye whiskey at New Holland Distillery to imbue the syrup with new flavors. The bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup has hints of vanilla, caramel and butterscotch; the rum-barrel-aged syrup pairs well with vanilla ice cream and yogurt; and the syrup aged in whiskey-soaked wood has a complex flavor described by the makers as “divine.” You can buy these syrups at doodlessugarbush.com.
Maple Cotton Candy
When you think about it, cotton candy is just spun sugar, so it makes total sense to create a version of the fluffy confection from nature’s best sugar: maple syrup. You can try a batch of this airy maple-liciousness through the Kalamazoo Maple Co., which boasts that this treat is the most popular item they sell, after maple syrup. It’s available at kalamazoomaplecompany.com.