April 4, 2016

Maple fest draws crowds to Marathon


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Caitlin Vaughan, of Ithaca, watches how maple syrup is made Saturday in the sugar shack at the Central New York Maple Festival in Marathon.

Associate Editor

MARATHON — Sara Come examined the concoction Saturday, then bit into it up to her nose ring. Her eyes widened.
“It’s like bacon candy,” the Dryden woman said. “It’s good.”
The concoction: bacon. Drenched in maple syrup. On a stick. Only at the Central New York Maple Festival in Marathon.
“Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as that?” teased George Wagner, giving Come a look at the salty-sweet sin on a stick. “Even a Chinese restaurant can’t produce this.”
“I’m a bacon fanatic,” Come said after swallowing and taking a selfie with the bacon. “I’ll be back.”
Wagner may or may not be there. When he wasn’t selling bacon on a stick, maple pulled pork and chicken, maple sodas, maple-glazed doughnuts and maple coffee for the Marathon Area Historical Society, Wagner, a Cortland County legislator from Marathon and Lapeer in his off hours, was planning to mix maple milk shakes at the community building nearby.
Which calls the question: What was the most innovative use of maple at the maple festival?
The maple cotton candy by Boy Scout Troop 90? The maple cream elephant ears? The maple brittle with pecans and bacon? The maple-glazed maple cookie that Patricia and Joan Reed came from Hancock to sell next to Peck Library?
“I remember playing up there when it was filled with mice,” Patricia Reed said. Her mother had been the librarian and the Reed girls spent weeks every summer with their aunt and uncle across the street.
They’re related to Art Ensign, who helped found the festival nearly 50 years ago. That’s part of why they have their syrup delivered to Delaware County. “We just like Marathon syrup,” Reed said.
“Excuse me, would you like to try a sample?” asked 8-year-old Catherine Newkirk, holding up a bag of maple popcorn in the maple museum, surrounded by maple sundaes, maple cream and gallons upon gallons of maple syrup and her cousin, 7-year-old Audrey Ensign. They’re Art Ensign’s great-granddaughters.
“We just restarted the business,” said Catherine’s mother, Carrie, Ensign’s granddaughter. The Ensign family tapped1,200 trees to make about500 gallons of syrup. “We brought a lot of dark (syrup) this year.”
Makes sense. The sap wasn’t as sugar-laden as previous years, and that means more cooking to get it to syrupy consistency. And more cooking means the sugars break down to make the dark, stronger-tasting syrups.
It was a strange season, Carrie Newkirk said. “We were boiling in February,” because it was so warm, then the weather cooled again and the Ensigns were able to boil more.
All good, traditional maple products — like one can get more traditional than maple syrup — but not the most innovative. Across from the maple museum, other people took a spin at innovative maple stuff. Maple fudge, maple shakes. Try the maple bowls.
That’s wood, not syrup, but it’s still maple.
Jerry Wilbur of Willet set up his shelves across the aisle from James Bryant of Herkimer. Cherry and walnut, oak and maple.
“I have a friend who runs a sawmill in Pulaski. I get to wander through,” said Bryant, who drove 80 miles to sell spoons and spatulas of curly maple and relate the dystopian tale of Herkimer County’s efforts to build a new jail.
Wilbur picked up a salad bowl from a particularly favorite piece of maple, turned on a lathe, but the bark still intact. “Cellulose, when it breaks down, is a glue,” he said, so the bark stays fast. But the real art is seeing the piece in the wood. The bowl he held varied in color from maple-white to dark amber and brown — unusual in maple.
Two more pieces, distinctly different patterns, but with the same range of colors, came from the same block of maple. It’s how the wood tickled his imagination as he turned it. “When you see a pattern, you try to utilize it,” Wilbur said.
Across the village at Marathon High School, Stacey Goldyn was trying to publicize her new sewing classes and creative camps at Magpie Custom Creations on East Court Street in Cortland. Across the aisle, someone was selling a maple-pecan soap and down the hall, hundreds of people waited 30 minutes and more for pancakes. She tried to pretend the handmade shirt featuring elk and moose images was vaguely maple-like.
The most innovative use of maple? Certainly not her tuna sandwich. She was seriously hungering for something maple. Anything maple.
“Maple?” Jennifer McConnell of Virgil said as she strolled past. “Maple fried dough. And the maple shake. They’re great,” she said as Goldyn virtually began salivating. “Can someone get me something maple? Goldyn asked as she and McConnell shared pictures of McConnell’s daughters, Chloe and Brenna, who were taking part in both a play Saturday and a color guard demonstration.
A few minutes later, someone handed Goldyn a maple pulled pork sandwich, a maple soda (carbonated maple sap, actually) and a maple-bacon on a stick. “Ooh,” Goldyn said, tuna forgotten.
Outside in the hall, the line for pancakes still stretched through the halls. Pancakes and syrup — not innovative, but classic. Not to be missed. Which is part of why Joy and Chivas Randall, of Whitney Point, waited in line more than a half-hour for them.
The Randalls were holding on to the most innovative use of maple at the maple festival: their daughter.
Maple. She’s 2, with blue eyes and hair the color of light amber syrup. She was next to 3-month-old Sparrow. “We like nouns,” Chivas Randall said.
“We just thought it was a cool name,” Joy Randall added.
And Maple? She’s quiet, but very sweet.

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