At the Maple Harvest Festival this weekend I ate a stack of pancakes (or two), watched my friends tap a maple tree stump, stuck my nose into a bucket of sap, saw seven Horseshoe Cloggers perform to the tune of Taylor Swift, and hiked the Lake Trail in a futile attempt to digest the said pancakes. And then, at the last of five stations that explained the history and production of maple syrup, I met Mariam (see photo).Just outside the sugar shack, Mariam dipped a popsicle stick into a third bowl of syrup. She licked the stick, puckered her lips, squinted, and then glanced up at Jessica. “This last one is the real maple syrup?” Mariam said, ending in that question mark.
“You’re right! The other two aren’t maple sugar at all,” said Jessica.
“I knew it! That last syrup is the sweetest!” Jessica was one of 200 volunteers at the festival. She’s also a Penn State senior who said she was happy to take a break from her nursing books to spend an afternoon outside heading the tasting station. Jessica’s favorite part of the job was watching the kids’ smiling faces as they strung syrup from their popsicles onto their cheeks, their hair, and (sometimes) their mouths. Jessica said that about half of all the visitors — adults and children alike — guessed the real maple syrup correctly. The other two bowls were filled with Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth, both mixtures of corn and caramel color that tasted like sweetened margarine to me. This last station was where the Maple Harvest Festival brought the message home, and then onto our breakfast tables: The real stuff just tastes better. Mariam confirmed, “Well, I like the real maple syrup because I like the sweetest stuff best!” This year the Maple Harvest Festival at Shaver’s Creek served up almost 10,000 pancakes and attracted about 2,000 of us hungry visitors, and we all left with camp smoke in our hair and maple syrup on our lips. -Natalya Stanko, contributing blogger (firstname.lastname@example.org)