Highland County’s maple sugar producers gearing up for weekend festival

Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 5:37 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - “Maple candy, maple fudge, maple sugar, covered nuts, almonds, pecans and English walnuts with maple syrup...”

Glenn Heatwole has never tired of maple syrup.

“We use it on our yogurt,” said the owner of the Sugar Tree Country Store. “We put it on our ice cream, we put it in our coffee...”

Even after 17 years of tapping and tasting and trying new ways to eat it.

“...We put it in our squash, sweet potatoes, whatever you eat that you need a little sweetener.”

The maple man used to be a dairy man. But after swapping herds for hoses, he found trees to be the more difficult of the two.

“Ninety percent of a dairyman’s success is management. So that’s you,” he explained. “Ninety percent of making syrup, getting syrup out of a tree is God, not you.”

Still, he’s kept at it and he’s looking forward to the busy festival days ahead.

“It’s fun but ‘til the end of the day you’re ready to kick your heels up and say whew!”

On Saturdays during the festival, you’ll find him on his feet at the Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell, an old building using new technology to get sugar from tree to till.

“Here’s what we use, there’s the tap that we use,” he said, showing off the modern hose.

It’s a process than can turn sugar water into syrup in just a few hours.

“We’ll get the barrels out of storage, unbung them, they’re sealed, they suck down, you unbung them, bring it back up to 200 degrees, so that they seal in each jug.”

The victory of an un-bunged barrel is sweet. But the process this year, is a little sticky.

“We’re having trouble getting syrup jugs, we’re having trouble getting jars, we make our own apple butter,” he said, “and the supply chain is just a mess.”

Still, Heatwole said he’ll do what he can to make it a good time for visitors, with an up-close look at how it’s done.

“See, when you bore in, you bore in an inch and a half because right here’s where the water is,” he said, showing off a piece of a tree.

He hopes this kind of education will make visitors appreciate the product even more.

“Go to some of the sugar camps and visit the camps and see how it’s made,” he encouraged. “It will help you to understand that maple syrup doesn’t just run out of a tree into a jug, that there’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of science that goes into it before its ready for the consumer.”

A lot of work and a lot of fun for a job well done.

“If you enjoy what you do, and it’s a challenge, and people enjoy the product and you can make a good product - it makes it enjoyable.”

You can learn more about the festival here.

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