Every March visitors to Hale Farm & Village take a trip back in time to when early Ohio settlers began a tradition that’s now known and celebrated as the Maple Sugar Festival.
Of course, Ohioans in the 1800s probably didn’t call their late winter maple-tree tapping a festival, but the onset of maple sap brought families together to socialize and welcome spring, just as it still does today.
Besides, can you think of a better place than Hale Farm to take the kids in mid-March for a pancake breakfast, then see some cute oxen, sheep, and baby chicks? Then you can head over to the Sugar House where storyteller Jeff Jones will be dressed in his authentic 1812-era trousers and stockings.
A veteran Maple Sugar Festival historian, Jeff really knows his stuff. He will take you and your family to the sugar bush near the Sugar House with his drill and tomahawk and show you how early settlers and Indians tapped the maple trees for sap, then boiled it for eight hours into sweet syrup.
But don’t worry, you won’t need to stand around in the cold for eight hours watching sap turn into syrup. Hale Farm will have samples of maple syrup made days before and ready for tasting at the Maple Sugar Festival.
No shortage of family fun
Hale Farm & Village will open all its buildings during the Maple Sugar Festival, so besides sugaring camp there will be glassblowing, spinning and weaving, as well as blacksmithing demonstrations. The marketplace will also be open for shopping, and Ohio-made syrup will be among the items available for purchase.
The festival will run from 10 am to 4 pm on March 12, 13, 19, and 20. Admission for breakfast (which will be served until 3 pm) and all the activities is $15 for adults, $10 for children age 3-12, and $5 for members. You can come to the breakfast only for $5.
And as I mentioned, you can see the new baby chicks that just arrived at Hale Farm, as well as oxen Star and Bright. These two gentle giants weigh 2,500 pounds each and are capable of pulling 2,000 pounds when yoked together.
Hale Farm will have Star and Bright provide a driving demonstration of how oxen were used in this area 100-plus years ago. Jessie, Star and Bright’s caretaker at Hale Farm, will answer all questions related to the animals. (So think of some good questions for him, and Jessie just might let you take some selfies with the oxen.)
The maple syrup process
At sugaring camp, Jeff will show you how 19th century Ohioans had some grit because making maple syrup was really hard work.
Consider this: Maple sap is 98% water and takes eight hours of boiling to make syrup; it also takes 40-plus gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Additionally, weather conditions for tapping the trees need to be just right. At Hale Farm, the best results for harvesting the most sap is when the days reach highs of 40 degrees or more following nights of freezing or below-freezing temperatures.
Amazingly, maple sugar was as good as gold to early Ohio settlers because they could trade it for necessities like food, clothing, and even windows for their homes.
Jeff explained to me that in the early 20th century, C.O. Hale would produce 300-400 gallons of maple syrup.
Today, Hale Farm only produces maple syrup for the Maple Sugar Festival. The sugar bush has 30 available maple trees to tap from—not enough to make maple syrup for commercial purposes.
Even so, the Maple Sugar Festival at Hale Farm & Village will have plenty of Ohio-made maple syrup at its MarketPlace, as well as the pancake breakfast. It will be a great time for everyone with cabin fever to come out, socialize, and learn a little more about Ohio’s heritage.