Many people from outside of the area are surprised to learn that Virginia has fine maple syrup. I don’t think it’s anything against my adopted home state, I just think people tend to think of Vermont when they think of states and the sweet stuff.
For two weekends in March, Highland County hosts a Maple Syrup Festival that I’ve been hearing about for years and still have not quite made it to—well, at least not to the festival proper. This past weekend my family and I went to an open house at a friend’s house in the county and then we wandered off to a sugar camp and loaded up on maple donuts, candy, and fresh maple syrup.
Once you’ve had syrup fresh, it’s really hard to go back to drizzling the grocery store stuff onto your pancakes. And do be careful of what you’re eating—a lot of it is corn syrup that’s maple flavored. Call me naïve, but I didn’t realize this until writing the MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIES, the maple syrup conversation came up with my recipe tester, Kate Antea, because we include a recipe for Monterey Maple Syrup Pie in the book. We wanted to salute this culture-pristine area of Virginia that often called Virginia’s “Little Switzerland.” (Mike had this old recipe for it and I have to tell you it’s a pie for people who love sweet pie.) Monterey is in Highland County and is one of the little towns that hosts crafters, cloggers, Bluegrass bands, and food vendors as part of the festival. It’s so remote and mountainous that parts of the area have only just gotten the internet.
We chose not to go and see the cloggers and the crafters and instead visited with the locals and a
wonderful gathering of people, who also happen to play Irish music and Bluegrass. In between sets, we talked about fiddlers, gourds, and history. The conversation can’t get better than that…can it?
The drive is not for sissies or those of us who get carsick. The only way to Highland County is through the mountains. You cross three of them to be exact—and each of them seems to be twistier than the previous. It makes for incredible scenery, but my stomach is still recovering, two days later.
But there’s simply nothing like walking through a forest and seeing all those buckets on the trees collecting the maple syrup. The smell of it as it boils down is also worth the drive. Walk into the “boiling” room, and you will be met with a delicious steamy maple scent.