PORTER | Embers crackled in a brightly burning campfire and snow fell on the hushed forest as sugar water boiled in bowls made of hollowed-out logs.
It was Maple Sugar Time on Saturday at the Chellberg Farm at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Groups of visitors bundled in snow boots, knitted hats, parkas and mittens made the rounds to four outdoor stations where park rangers and volunteers demonstrated maple sugar-making through the ages. At the Chellberg farmhouse, kids sampled real maple syrup, while parents snatched free recipes for maple applesauce muffins and oatmeal maple cookies.
At the first station – the American Indian Sugar Camp — volunteer Jim Helke explained how Native Americans boiled the sugary sap down to make sugar cakes.
“The first couple of days, there was so much testing going on, no sugar was made,” said Jim Helke, a park volunteer. “After a few days, the kids got tired of tasting, so they could make some sugar.”
Park Ranger Ted Winterfeld demonstrated how the Chellberg family turned maple sap into syrup in the 1930s at the sugar shack.
Speaking through a curtain of steam rising from vats of boiling sap, Winterfeld explained the difference between light and dark-colored syrup.
“Light syrup sells for more than the dark,” said Winterfeld, holding up two samples of syrup against the light.
Winterfeld asked the audience to guess which one he prefers.
“Well, No. 1, Ted is cheap,” Winterfeld said. “No. 2, the darker the color, the deeper the flavor. I like that deep flavor.”
The event was part of a girlfriends’ weekend for four women who met last November on a South Shore train returning from Chicago.
Darci Denton and Kim Cole, both of Columbia City, Ind., and Denise Maynard and Pam Cockerell, of Valparaiso, say the park is one of their favorite places to reunite and relax.
“We all love the outdoors, and everyone we know is in the house right now,” Denton said. “There’s all kinds of neat stuff to do here, more so than where we’re from. It’s Indiana’s best-kept secret.”
Event first-timers Ken and Genie Schultz, of Valparaiso, explored the front yard of the Chellberg farmhouse.
“This is a fantastic thing to see and the rangers are all so knowledgeable,” Genie Schultz said.
Ken Schultz said the couple appreciated the event allowed them to “transit the ages.”
They plan to return Sunday with their grandchildren, who “live in a subdivision.”
“Living in the city, these things get lost,” Genie Schultz said.
Maple Sugar Time continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and March 9 and 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.