My first memory of real maple syrup is while growing up in Michigan. As I remember it, we were driving through some of the beautiful forest that covers much of the state when we saw a maple syrup farm set up on a hill. We stopped, talked with the owner and begged Mom to buy us some syrup and maple candy. She knew we didn't know what we were asking...
What we knew as maple syrup until that point was of the Aunt Jemima's persuasion with corn syrup, sugar, and a little maple flavoring. We quickly discovered that this syrup wasn't what we knew as our normal pancake topping. And Mom was right- we didn't like it at all.
Twenty or so years later, I regularly purchase real maple syrup from places with real names. I've been enjoying LM Sugarbush's syrup for a while and was delighted when they welcomed me down this harvest season. The drive from Indianapolis to Salem slowly transforms from cornfields to forests, from flat to hilly, and it reminds me of my home state. I arrived on a quite and cold Saturday morning and Leane invited me inside her cosy log home to learn about the farm's history.
Truly a family operation, Leane, her two daughters Jenny and Emily, and their husbands Nic and Robert run LM Sugarbush. They manage 40 acres of trees with about 5000 tap holes in 2400 trees and 14 miles of tubing. More than 30 years since its beginning, they are now the largest producers in the area. "A lot of people are surprised to find out that there are places that make maple syrup this far south. You usually think of Vermont or Canada but [maple syrup in Indiana] is an experience that you can have without traveling far." In Vermont they make their syrup as light in color as possible, which removes some of the maple flavor. Indiana syrup, on the other hand, is darker with a richer maple flavor. "I've had countless people say that they prefer ours," Leane said about the comparison.
During early motherhood, a time when she had to be inside with the children rather than out in the woods helping her ex-husband, Leane conjured up the idea of a Maple Syrup Festival. Extra income wasn't her only objective in starting the festival. "Maple syrup lends itself to having people come and watch the process. It seemed like something that needed to be shared and adds a lot of pleasure for us to see people enjoy it so much."
After hearing the family story, Jenny, Leane's oldest daughter, took me out to see the property. Because of the unusually cold weather, sap wasn't flowing very much and there wasn't much action. Nevertheless, I saw the acres of tapped maple trees that, in providing food for themselves, create a way of life for this hard working family.
This year's festival is February 22 and 23, and March 1 and 2.
In the Indy area, LM Sugarbush Maple Syrup is sold at Good Earth Natural Foods, Pogues Run Grocer, and Traders Point Creamery.