Laurel Highlands' Somerset County is Pennsylvania’s largest producer of maple products. In order to produce maple sugar, there needs to be an abundance of maple trees paired with the perfect climate. Springtime weather in the region is ideal because of its cold nights and warm days. That alternating weather cycle, from freezing to thawing, is what changes the atmospheric pressure in the trees to allow sap to flow out of them.
The first documented maple sugar production in Somerset County was in 1762. Many sugar camps in the region have always been family-owned businesses, passed down through multiple generations, so it is very much a tradition around these parts!
It is ideal to start the tapping process in early spring, when days are warm and nighttime temperatures are below freezing. Back in the day, it was also a time of the year when little was happening around the farm. Cows weren’t being milked and it was before plowing and planting season. This doesn’t mean that maple sugaring was just a hobby, it was certainly a lot of work. In its early years, the process was labor intensive and time consuming. But today, technology has made the process more efficient.
Trees are tapped by drilling a hole for a spile, a tool that resembles a spout. Spiles were originally made of wood, eventually metal and now plastic. The sap drips from the spile and into a keeler, a bucket that hangs from a hook on the spile. “Keeler” is a term specific to Somerset County, influenced by its early German settlers. Today, the sap flows from the spile, through plastic tubing and is deposited in a large tank. Many years ago, farmers would have traveled through the woods, stopping at every tree and manually dumping each keeler into a large tank.
With maple production primarily limited to a handful of states located in New England, Somerset County stands out and takes great pride in its maple production.
The Maple Weekend Taste and Tour is a free annual event usually held on the second weekend of March that highlights participating maple camps' hard work and the sweet treats they create! Tour multiple maple camps throughout the weekend to see the process of maple syrup production first-hand and sample all of the tasty maple treats you can handle.
You don't want to miss the Laurel Highlands' most anticipated annual spring event, the Pennsylvania Maple Fest, held in Meyersdale (aka Maple City) during two weekends in March. The festival rings in spring with maple production demonstrations, live entertainment, the Maple Queen contest, a quilt show, activities to keep the kiddos busy, the famous Lion's pancake and sausage meal and more!
Schedule a visit to a maple camp during your next visit to get a behind-the-scenes experience and sample tasty maple treats!