Michigan Maple – Syrup That Is

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Michigan is known for many things – the Great Lakes, the automobile, cherries, apples, wine, beer, and other spirits – but did you know that some of the finest maple syrup comes from Michigan? It does. There are sugar houses in virtually every county in Michigan.

Like fine wines, every year is different when it comes to the quality and quantity of syrup. The main determining factor is weather. Here are some interesting factoids about Michigan Maple Syrup (from the Michigan Maple Syrup Association website)

  • Michigan ranks 5th in maple syrup production in the United States.
  • Average maple syrup production in Michigan is about 90,000 gallons per year.
  • There are an estimated 500 commercial maple syrup producers in Michigan with some 2,000 additional hobby or home use producers.
  • The production of pure maple syrup is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the United States.
  • Maple syrup is one of the few agricultural crops in which demand exceeds supply.
  • Only about 1 percent of Michigan’s maple forest resource is used in maple syrup production.
  • In an average year, each tap-hole will produce about 10 gallons of maple sap, enough for about a quart of pure Michigan maple syrup.
  • It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
  • Maple syrup is the first farm crop to be harvested in Michigan each year.
  • A maple tree needs to be about 40 years old and have a diameter of 10 inches before tapping is recommended.
  • The maple season in Michigan starts in February in the southern counties and runs well into April in the Upper Peninsula.
  • Warm sunny days and freezing nights determine the length of the maple season.
  • The budding of maple trees makes the maple syrup taste bitter. Thus, production ceases.
  • Freezing and thawing temperatures create pressure and force the sap out of the tree.
  • A very rapid rise in temperature (25 to 45 degrees) will enhance the sap flow.
  • While the sugaring season may last 6 to 10 weeks, but during this period, the heavy sap may run only 10-20 days.
  • Maple sap is boiled to remove the water and concentrate the sugars in a process called evaporation.
  • Maple sap becomes maple syrup when boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit, or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  • Pure Michigan maple syrup has 50 calories per tablespoon and is fat-free. It has no additives, no added coloring and no preservatives.
  • Maple syrup has may minerals per tablespoon: 20 milligrams of calcium, 2 milligrams of phosphorus, 0.2 milligrams of iron, 2 milligrams of sodium, 35 milligrams of potassium.
  • Maple syrup is classified as one of nature’s most healthful foods.

Every year, on the last weekend in April, the town of Vermontville hosts the original, the “granddaddy” of Michigan syrup festivals.

As is typical in Michigan, some years are gorgeous, shirt-sleeve weather and some are bitingly cold. This is important to keep in mind as you are preparing to go to the festival because you will be outside most of the time.

Naturally, the day starts out with pancake breakfasts. Lines are very long, so be prepared to wait. These breakfasts are a main form of revenue for charitable causes in the area. The pancakes and sausage are good, but the syrup is heavenly.

The Vermontville festival is great for all age groups. There are always games and contests for the little guys, and there are craft booths, car shows and sales of all things maple. My personal favorite (next to syrup, of course) is maple sugar candy. If you’ve never tried it, you’re really missing out. It’s very rich though but easy to make, so buy lots of extra syrup to make candy with.

Here are a couple of photos of the early crowds. Notice the long line for pancake breakfast.

Early morning - Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival

Early morning – Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival

 

Crowds Lining Up for Pancake Breakfast

Crowds Lining Up for Pancake Breakfast

Here are the instructional exhibit and the coop sales buildings.

Instructional Building (Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival)

Instructional Building
(Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival)

 

Maple Cooperative - Buy All Things Maple Here

Maple Cooperative – Buy All Things Maple Here

The local mounted patrol came by to check things out.

Local Mounted Police Unit

Local Mounted Police Unit

Some of the terrific cars at the car show

Pretty in Pink (50's era Ford Thunderbird)

Pretty in Pink (50’s era Ford Thunderbird)

 

Early Ford Mustang Convertible

Early Ford Mustang Convertible

 

Gotta Have Fuzzy Dice

Gotta Have Fuzzy Dice

One of the craftsmen is a chainsaw carver. His specialty was bears (naturally, a favorite of mine), but he also had some other cute “critters.” Two of his bear carvings made it home with us.

Bear, Bears, and More Bears (Plus a Few Others)

Bear, Bears, and More Bears (Plus a Few Others)

 

Bears and Other Critters (Check the Bear with Beer Sign)

Bears and Other Critters (Check the Bear with Beer Sign)

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This One Had To Come Home With Me

This artist made useful items from found materials. There were all manner of benches, chairs, cabinets, and bookshelves made from discarded items.

This bench was made from old farm implements (pitchforks) and discarded doors.

Bench from Pitchforks and Found Door

Bench from Pitchforks and Found Door

This corner cabinet (which I bought) really grabbed my attention. It is made from an old window, old shutters, and an old door.

 

Nifty Corner Cabinet (from found/discarded materials)

Nifty Corner Cabinet (from found/discarded materials)

Made from Old Window, Shutters, and Door

Made from Old Window, Shutters, and Door

These are just a few of the activities that go on during the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival. Other activities include rides, fireworks, bands, a parade, a 5k walk/run, a petting zoo, a flea market, and several dinner, fundraisers – lots to do for the whole family.

So mark your calendars, now, for the last weekend in April. Plan to visit the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival. I might see you there!

Here is a link to the festival’s website.

http://www.vermontvillemaplesyrupfestival.org/schedule.htm

 

Up Next: Autumn comes to Michigan

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation 2013 (Folk Art Center & The Grove Park Inn)

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After enjoying a sumptuous breakfast at Oakland Cottage, we were off to explore Asheville. Our first stop was the Allanstand Craft Shop at the Folk Art Center (Milepost 382 Blue Ridge Parkway).

Folk Art Center - Blue Ridge Parkway (courtesy HCPress.com)

Folk Art Center – Blue Ridge Parkway
(courtesy HCPress.com)

It was raining (as usual) when we arrived, so I didn’t get to take photos of the outside. Once, inside, photos were forbidden, so I won’t be able to share with you. I do understand why no photos are allowed as there could be some who would profit at the expense of the artisans who display and sell their goods here. The photo below is from their website (http://www.southernhighlandguild.org/pages/guild-shops/allanstand-craft-shop.php).

Folk Art Center/Allanstand Craft Shop (Courtesy Southern Highland Guild website)

Folk Art Center/Allanstand Craft Shop
(Courtesy Southern Highland Guild website)

I was particularly excited by the stained glass art there. Unfortunately, it was priced appropriately for the work and that was beyond my pocketbook. As a dabbler in the medium, I was thrilled to see such innovation, and it gave me renewed interest in seeing what I could do with the ideas I got from the work in the shop.

 

Other crafts included beautiful pottery, unique glasswork, jewelry, needle arts, woodworking/carving, and painting among many others. So many talented individuals make up the Guild. The volunteers who man the shop are so nice and welcoming. I really recommend a visit to the Folk Art Center if you are on the Parkway, or to any of the other locations (see the website for locations and hours). We’ve been in four of the shops and each one is unique and carries art from the 200+ guild members.

Grove Park Inn Asheville, NC

Grove Park Inn
Asheville, NC

From the Folk Art Center, we were off to explore The Grove Park Inn. This is a destination I’d been wanting to experience for a long time. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been in the Asheville area many, many times over the years; however, never had I been to The Grove Park Inn. Our friends, Eric and Gloria, confirmed that this was a destination that must be experienced.

 

I was always fascinated by the story of the Grove Park Inn. There seems to be so many tie-ins with my own, personal history. No, I’m certainly not related to Edwin Grove or his son-in-law, Fred Seely, but their lives were lived in and around many of the same locations as mine.

 

Grove was born, and began his pharmaceutical fortune in Tennessee until doctors told him to seek the fresh air of Asheville. He also was a real estate developer in Atlanta (my home for over 20 years). He purchased the land on which the Grove Park sits around the same time as George Vanderbilt was building his famous mansion.

 

Fred Seely was a pharmaceutical pioneer whom Grove met in Detroit (my current home area). Seely married Grove’s daughter, and the two men planned and built the Inn which opened in 1913. Today, it is part of the Omni hotel system, but it maintains its timeless elegance and incomparable position overlooking Asheville.

Enjoying the Rockers Grove Park Inn

Enjoying the Rockers
Grove Park Inn

One of the nice touches is the presence of the many rocking chairs in front of the Inn. It’s a nice place to wait for your car – or to just sit and wait for the rest of your party to arrive.  

Giant Brass & Art Glass Lamps Outside Grove Park Inn

Giant Brass & Art Glass Lamps
Outside Grove Park Inn

While sitting and rocking, one can enjoy the massive brass and art-glass lamps, the pretty flowers, and the cute bear & butterfly statue.

Adorable Bear & Butterfly Statue

Adorable Bear & Butterfly Statue

I enjoyed making “rock pictures.” I think the one below looks like a bear. Do you see it?

Do You See a Bear?

Do You See a Bear?

The Arts and Crafts movement is beautifully on display in the Grove Park. Everywhere we looked, there were masterpieces of stone, glass, wooden furniture, and space. The fireplaces on either end of the lobby are massive! I believe they are every bit as big as the one in the Biltmore. A six-foot-plus tall man can stand in the opening and still be dwarfed. The stacked rocks are magnificent. I could imagine how cozy it must be to sit in a comfy chair in front of one of these fireplaces when winter is raging outside.

One of the MASSIVE Fireplaces in the Lobby Grove Park Inn

One of the MASSIVE Fireplaces in the Lobby
Grove Park Inn

All of the fixtures and furnishings are kept completely true to the period in which the structure was built. As beautiful as the interior is, it doesn’t detract, even slightly, from the amazing view. 

Two of the Beautiful Arts & Crafts Style Lamps Lobby - Grove Park Inn

Two of the Beautiful Arts & Crafts Style Lamps
Lobby – Grove Park Inn

We were there on a gray, rainy day, and even that couldn’t spoil the enjoyment of the Inn.

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View from Sunset Terrace Grove Park Inn

View from Sunset Terrace
Grove Park Inn

We had lunch on the Sunset Terrace. We had their “famous” Lobster Cobb Salad. Honestly, it was a very nice salad, but the lobster was limited and the price was outrageous. Of course, the view, the service and the ambience are what you are paying for, so the experience was worth the price – once.

"Famous" Lobster Cobb Salad Grove Park Inn

“Famous” Lobster Cobb Salad
Grove Park Inn

We also had dessert. (Oh, come on! We’re on vacation!) I ordered the chocolate cake with the cherry in-between the layers. It came with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’m sure that this is normally very, very good, but mine was pretty dry. I took most of it back to the B&B. On the other hand, Jim had the butterscotch pudding (in a Mason jar – isn’t that novel) with caramel topping. He finished every last spoonful.

Chocolate & Cherry Cake Grove Park Inn

Chocolate & Cherry Cake
Grove Park Inn

Butterscotch Pudding with Caramel Grove Park Inn

Butterscotch Pudding with Caramel
Grove Park Inn

There are all kinds of terrific shops in the Grove Park. There are also conservatories, a grotto pool, and so many other sites that we didn’t even get a chance to see. We’ve decided that, some day, we will have to book a stay at the Grove Park so that we can experience it all.

SO Much More to See Grove Park Inn

SO Much More to See
Grove Park Inn

Up Next: What I Did on My Summer Vacation 2013 (Waynesville: A Journey “Home”)

 

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation 2013 (The Oakland Cottage B&B)

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Oakland Cottage Asheville, NC

Oakland Cottage
Asheville, NC

The Oakland Cottage in Asheville, North Carolina is where we stayed for our first three nights of our vacation. It is managed and run by Jim and Mary. We were greeted warmly – like old friends. I knew immediately that we were going to enjoy our stay. The Oakland Cottage was built in the same timeframe as Biltmore House. It is said that one of the architects from Biltmore designed Oakland Cottage. I really appreciated all the craftsman-style architectural details and the beautiful antique appointments.

Lobby and Hall Toward Rooms

Lobby and Hall Toward Rooms

The building was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium for African Americans during the 1940s. Although there have been some changes to layout (our room was probably partially a porch in earlier years), the amazing floors and woodwork are all original. Today, Oakland Cottage is a lovely, accommodating B&B that I would gladly visit again and again.

 

Our Room was the Garden Room (Room 5). It’s a spacious room with a huge, king-sized bed. There is also a daybed/trundle. The bathroom sports a jetted tub with a great shower.

Garden Room (#5) Oakland Cottage

Garden Room (#5)
Oakland Cottage

Dressing Area Room #5 – Oakland Cottage

Through the sliding door is a small balcony with a small table and two chairs that overlooks the garden.

View of Garden From Room #5 - Oakland Cottage

View of Garden
From Room #5 – Oakland Cottage

Pretty Visitor to The Garden
Oakland Cottage

As I mentioned in an earlier post (and which will probably be a recurring theme), it rained much of the time while we vacationed. I have to say that the rain actually was welcomed in our room as we could open the sliding door a crack and listen to the rain fall through the night. So very soothing and restful. Another huge bonus was being awakened by the singing of a Carolina Wren (how very appropriate, I thought). I have to say, too, that the bed was amazing. It was so comfortable and the pillows…well, they were the best ever. I must remember to ask where those can be purchased.

 

Open the Slider & Listen to the Rain/Birds

Open the Slider & Listen to the Rain/Birds

Prior to breakfast, we all gathered in the appropriately-named “Gathering Room” for coffee or tea which was served from a beautiful antique table. This was also where we met several of the other guests who were visiting at the same time. Every one of us seemed to be thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and I didn’t hear a single complaint.

The Gathering Room Oakland Cottage

The Gathering Room
Oakland Cottage

Coffee Before Breakfast Oakland Cottage

Coffee Before Breakfast
Oakland Cottage

Coffee/Tea Station Oakland Cottage

Having our dear friends, Gloria and Eric, with us was wonderful. We had so much to catch up on. We continued our conversation over an excellent breakfast served buffet style in the comfortable dining room. I must say that the food was very, very good and exactly what we needed to get our day of discovering Asheville started.

 

Breakfast Buffet Table

Breakfast Buffet Table

 

Breakfasting Area

Breakfasting Area

The front porch is another favorite spot. What a comfortable place it is to unwind after a day of exploring, or just sit, read and relax. 

Relaxing on the Front Porch Oakland Cottage

Relaxing on the Front Porch
Oakland Cottage

If you have an opportunity to visit Asheville, North Carolina, I highly recommend that you plan to stay at the Oakland Cottage. It’s convenient, unusually well-priced, and so comfortable, you may not want to leave. I know that we will be back.

 

Up Next: The Folk Art Center & The Grove Park Inn

 

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Plymouth Ice Festival

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After a year with virtually no snow (winter 2011/2012) – or even much cold, we in Southeastern Michigan are truly getting paid back by ‘old man Winter.’ We’ve seen the coldest temperatures in at least four years, and the return of snow. The photos below show our yard during the holidays.

Snow from our back deck

Snow from our back deck

 

Our "Bird Pond" out front

Our “Bird Pond” out front

I think the Trees Look Beautiful!

I think the Trees Look Beautiful!

Winter can have its fun side. Michigan has the most miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the United States. That activity is definitely on my “bucket list.” I understand that there are inns and restaurants that are strategically built along certain of the larger, more traveled trails. That sounds like fun to me! There are other activities like ice fishing, skiing (cross country, mostly; but there are also several ski ‘mountains’ in the state), snowshoeing, and skating.

Plymouth Ice Festival 2013

Plymouth Ice Festival 2013

One of the prettiest spectacles every year is the Plymouth Ice Festival. It is held in the pretty town of Plymouth (imagine that), Michigan which is in the Detroit Metropolitan area. The Ice Festival is held on the third weekend of every January.  This year we visited on Saturday. The weather was unusually warm (into the 40s). Normally, that would be welcome in a year where we’ve already had temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, those temperatures are not so welcome when you are carving and displaying ice sculptures.

Ice Sculpture

Ice Sculpture

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Ice Carving Dear to My Heart

Ice Carving Dear to My Heart

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The festival encompasses the entire village, but the main display area is in the town square. This is where the competition takes place. There are teams from local universities. For example, the team below is from the University of Michigan (GO BLUE)!

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Local businesses sponsor carvers, also. In some instances, they are placed in the square for judging. In other cases, they are displayed outside the local business. One of the most interesting displays was the ‘Ice Bar’ outside a local restaurant.

Sponsored by Local Grocery Chain

Sponsored by Local Grocery Chain

In Front of Shop

In Front of Shop

 

Poor Owl was Melting

Poor Owl was Melting

Gingerbread "Sculpture"

Gingerbread “Sculpture”

Svedka Ice Bar

Svedka Ice Bar

One of the few artists who probably didn’t mind the temperatures was this fellow who was using his chainsaw to carve wood. I really liked his work. The photos below show some of his sculptures. What do you think?  There are some excellent chainsaw sculptors in our region. We actually have two works by an artist from Mikado, Michigan at our home. I’ll show you those in a later post.

All Carvers Didn't Work in Ice

All Carvers Didn’t Work in Ice

 

Great wood work

Great wood work

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Crane

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Fish & Turtle

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Owl in Progress

Up Next:  More Michigan Winter Fun

 

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