MEDORA, Indiana - Early settlers welcomed it as a sweet sign of spring. Today, folks feeling winter’s cabin fever are eager to take to the woods when the sap starts flowing for the time-honored treat of maple syrup.
During the first two weekends in March, syrup lovers would head to Burton’s Maplewood Farm in Medora, Indiana, for the National Maple Syrup Festival. The event showcased the traditional way of harvesting maple syrup.
But festivalgoers are going to have to wait one more year for the popular event, which will not be held in 2014.
“We are taking a one-year hiatus from the festival to plan a move that will include multiple counties in the years to come,” Tim Burton, festival founder and owner of Burton’s Maplewood Farm, said Dec. 28.
To those who have enjoyed past festivals, the idea that it will return even bigger and better in 2015 will make the wait worthwhile.
“It’s like turning back the clock at the festival,” says artist Kathy Blankenheim. “You see scenes that you don’t see in today’s world.”
One of those scenes was captured by Kathy in a plein air (art of painting outdoors) work at last year’s festival that garnered her an award of excellence in the prestigious Indiana Heritage Arts competition. The painting shows two horses pulling a wagon during the maple syrup event.
“I was absolutely thrilled to win,” Kathy says. “It is a big prize and I was so surprised because I am rather new at painting.”
To make the experience even more special, that award-winning painting was bought by a couple who live on Jordan Avenue in Bloomington. “I grew up in Bloomington and my parents still live there,” says Kathy, who has a science degree from Indiana University.
Now living on a Trader’s Point farm outside Indianapolis, Kathy quit her job three years ago to concentrate on art and enjoys the many colorful activities at the festival. “Artists, in general, I think see things that many people pass by on a daily basis and don’t even notice,” she says. “As artists we are always pausing to say, ‘Wow, isn’t that beautiful.’ And it moves us so much that we have to put it down with paint. Then someone will see that painting and say, ‘I have been driving by that bridge every day and I never even look at it. Then I see your beautiful painting and I realize what I’ve missed.’”
Along with the plein air painting, the National Maple Syrup Festival also offered plenty of old-timey demonstrations, reenactments, music and food. Visitors could tour a working sugar bush operation and learn how to collect sap the old-fashioned way. They could enjoy pursuits like blacksmithing, creating a smokehouse, Dutch oven cooking, butter churning, woodcarving, maple syrup cook offs and bakeoffs, a farm animal petting zoo and wool spinning.
As a festivalgoer for the past two years, artist Roy Boswell said his eye was captured last year by the re-enactors. “I painted a lot of the antiques that the re-enactors arranged among their campsites,” he says. “It is always interesting how natural light affects objects different than light in the studio.”
What he likes best as an artist, Roy adds, is seeing the juxtaposition of the new with the old. “Last year I walked up on a group of cowboy re-enactors as they were packing up to leave. They were talking to all of the kids that had been watching. It was an interesting contrast between these dark-clad cowboys and the bright-colored jackets the kids were wearing.”
Another eye-catching scene was watching the Native American re-enactors making maple syrup. “They were using a large cauldron to heat up the maple sap and there was a lot of steam coming up with everyone dressed differently just watching it,” Roy says. “That’s what I liked best as a painter.”
And as a non-painting festival guest? “I like the syrup the best,” the Franklin man answers. “It has a deep flavor that tastes good on a lot more than just pancakes. Also getting to watch the process adds to the experience of eating the syrup.”
STAR OF THE FESTIVAL
Of course, the maple syrup itself was the star of the festival. Plenty of maple syrup-inspired victuals were available, such as maple BBQ pork chops, maple baked beans, and of course, stacks of buttermilk pancakes.
“There is so much good food,” says Pamela Newell of Fishers. “It is a labor of love for the people who do it and it just seems to get better every year.”
Pamela likened the setting to “a Currier & Ives scene. The horse-drawn wagons, the smoky fires, the historic things, the actual old-fashioned way to make maple syrup. They are actually doing it there.”
As a plein air artist, Pamela says she always welcomes curious children and was pleased at their reactions while watching an artwork take shape at the festival. “Many of them have never seen a painter at work before,” she says.
Many children have probably never seen a working farm or farm animals either, says Jane Hays, public relations manager at the Jackson County Visitors Center. “The landscape around the Burton farm is beautiful. It borders the Hoosier National Forest, full of maple trees, hilly and just gorgeous.”
The National Maple Syrup Festival now has a devoted following and the event seems to grow each year, Jane says. “We get calls about it all year round … It is definitely an event for all of the family and people look forward to it every year.”
In fact, maple syrup production has deep roots in the Burton family. Tim and Angie Burton have owned and operated Burton’s Maplewood Farm for over a decade. Angie’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Flinn, made maple syrup and sugar from the same track of woods in southern Indiana as Maplewood Farm occupies today. In March 1813, Flinn’s family was attacked by Indians. Jacob was captured and forced to carry his metal “sugaring kettle” to northern Indiana along the Wabash River. He escaped several months later and made it home before the first winter snowfall late that same year.
Today, the Burton family’s syrup can be found in dishes at some of Chicago’s leading restaurants and the annual Indiana event is a welcome time to savor its spring sweetness.
“The re-enactors are great at explaining how the first inhabitants of this area used the sap from the trees,” says Donna Shortt, an Indianapolis artist who has participated in the festival for three years. “They also give samples of ‘candy’ they make the old way… Tim Burton is a wonderful welcoming host.”