Early spring is sweet in Indiana when maple sap is turned into rich golden syrup. It’s a historic rite, one first used by Native Americans who taught the newly arriving settlers how to tap trees and create syrup and sugar that would help sustain them throughout the year. Maple syrup and sugar are considered to be Indiana’s first agricultural product and to celebrate this heritage, Burton’s Maplewood Farms in tiny Medora, Indiana, becomes the Mecca each spring for all things maple syrup during their annual National Maple Syrup Festival, held each year on the first two weekends of March.
Burton, whose wife’s family has roots here going back almost 200 years (ask him to tell you the fascinating story about a great great great great ancestor who was captured by Native Americans, forced to walk over 150 miles, escaped and made his way back through woods and along rivers to Medora), has helped put maple syrup not only on the Indiana map but also in the Chicago area. And so this year, some 36 Chicago area food professionals including chefs, bloggers, photographers, culinary instructors and even a Food Network host, are making their way down to this rural landscape. Indeed, one of the two roads leading into Medora crosses a river via a 19th century covered bridge. That’s rural.
Many of the chefs will be staying a little north of Medora at the Story Inn, a pre-Civil War hamlet now a destination bed and breakfast in scenic Brown County. Story chefs Kevin Allen and LeAnn Sawyers will be preparing an Indiana-centric meal for them that includes Baby Spinach Salad with Story-made duck bacon, Lollipop Lamb Chops made in Story’s immense smoker nicknamed Big Doc (Doctor George Story founded the village back in 1851) and Story’s own White Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake (when Kevin isn’t looking, I promise to steal and share the recipe).
Foodie guests include Ivy Denman, executive chef at Euphoria and Creative Café, nominated by Food and Wine magazine as People’s Best New Chef, Nathan Duensing, banquet chef/executive chef at the Chicago Downtown Marriott Magnificent Mile, Michael Fiddler, executive chef at Trump Chicago, Paula Haney and Craig Siegelin, owners of Hoosier Momma Pie Company, Mark Psilos, market manager Green City Market, Chicago, David Posey, chef de cuisine at Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago, Moosah Reaume, executive chef at Public Hotel/Pump Room, Matthew Rice, executive pastry chef at Little Goat Café and Girl and the Goat and Andrew Hroza, executive chef at Goose Island Brewery.
The chef dinner on the back porch isn’t open to the public (though the Inn’s main dining room will be serving), all are invited to the bonfire afterwards.
These culinary professionals will be attending the two day festival which includes judge the Sweet Victory Challenge sponsored by King Arthur Flour which asked for home bakers to send in their best recipes — using maple syrup and their flour — for judging. In previous years, they’ve had close to 700 entries from all over the country. The recipes are prepared by professional chefs in Medora’s school auditorium.
The contest, divided into Adult and Youth Divisions, each had three categories — Savory Main Dish, Dessert and Breakfast. Below are two favorite recipes from siblings Martha and Ethan Batz.
Also on the agenda was live music, horse drawn wagon rides, pioneer games for kids and lots to eat including, you guessed it, pancakes with freshly made maple syrup, maple barbecue pork chops and maple baked beans. Living history enactments, all researched and prepared according to contemporary documents, showcased encampments of French fur trappers, Delaware Indians and English surveyors — all preparing syrup the way it was made centuries ago. And in an interesting aside, last year when I attended one of the Delaware enactors had trapped several beavers earlier in the season. Field dressed, they were now simmering in a stew pot at another enactment campsite. I would have taken a taste but it wasn’t going to be ready for several more hours.
Martha Batz’s Maple Soufflé
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 tablespoons King Arthur flour
2 cups milk
½ cups maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On low/medium stovetop burner, make a roux with butter and flour. Add milk slowly and mix with a whisk. Next, add maple syrup and salt, cook for a minute. Remove from burner and stir in 6 well-beaten egg yolks. Meanwhile, beat 6 egg whites until stiff with a kitchen-aid or electric beater. Fold in egg whites into the maple/yolk mixture. Pour mixture gently into 7”X9”X3” (or 8”X8”X3” or 9” round glass pan, which is a 3 qt. pan). Bake 50 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately with sausage or bacon for a delicious breakfast. 8 servings.
Elijah Batz’s Native American Maple Meatball
1/2 pounds buffalo (bison meat) or ground sirloin
1/2 pound sausage
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose King Arthur flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup onion, sautéed (optional)
1/4 cup maple syrup
Combine ingredients with fork or mix with hand in a large bowl. Divide into walnut shaped balls, making 20-24 and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
For white gravy:
2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter
2 tablespoons King Arthur flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cup milk or half and half
1/3 cup maple syrup
In a saucepan combine fat and flour, salt and pepper. Then add milk or cream stirring constantly until thickened. Stir in maple syrup after mixture is thick. Pour over cooked meatballs and serve with biscuits, pancakes, or other bread OR alone on toothpicks with the gravy for a quick snack.