Southern Agenda

How Sweet It Is

When you think of maple syrup, chances are Virginia doesn’t come to mind first. “Most people aren’t aware you can produce maple syrup this far down south,” says Chris Swecker, executive director of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce. A far cry from Vermont’s annual output of some 2.5 million gallons, a small percentage of Virginia’s maples produce between one and two thousand precious gallons a year, most of them tapped in the Allegheny Mountains region. Over the course of two weekends (March 9–10 and March 16–17), the Highland County Maple Festival heralds the “opening” of the trees with tours of local sugar camps that demonstrate tapping and the boiling of sugar water until it reduces to syrup. Festivalgoers indulge in pancakes and buckwheat cakes, maple doughnuts and candies, and even maple BLTs. The sugar camps, several of which open for tours during the festival, sell bottles of the stuff year-round, and area restaurants honor it, too: Try a scoop of ice cream flavored with local maple syrup at the Split Banana Co. in Staunton.