Southern Indiana is home to one of the country’s largest sugar maple farms. Burton’s Maplewood Farm in Medora has been tapping trees and making syrup for years.
In 2006, owners Tim and Angie Burton started tapping trees on their 28-acre property in Jackson County. Initially they sold the sap to a local maple syrup producer. In 2007, they began making their own syrup.
Thanks to Indiana’s climate and geographic location, maple syrup season begins early as the third or fourth week in January, Tim Burton said.
The perfect temperatures for “sugar season” are days above freezing and nights below freezing. Attaching taps to the 700-plus trees on their farm, the Burtons use the same methods Angie Burton’s ancestors once used.
About maple syrup
The sugar maple has the highest sugar content in its sap.
Maple syrup is made in late winter or early spring when the nights are still freezing but daytime temperatures reach about 40 degrees.
Tapping the trees catches some of the sap as it rises to the tops of the trees.
Trees are not harmed by tapping. Tap holes heal over in a year or two.
It takes about 45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
Indiana earns about $190,000 each year from its maple syrup crop.
The taps go about an inch and a half into each tree, in the cambium layer, between the bark and the hardwood. The Burtons collect the sap with hood-covered buckets, a much older method than modern practices.
The buckets are attached to the tap to allow the tree to deposit sap one drop at a time. Each bucket collects about 10 gallons of sap each season.
By 2009, they had begun selling their products at farmers markets, traveling as far as Chicago to spread the word about their syrup.
“Angie and I were driving up to Chicago twice a week for about two months. It’s a five-hour trip each way,” Tim Burton said. “We’d leave at 2:30 in the morning. It would last from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then we’d pack up and go home. It was grueling.”
The pair soon found someone in Chicago to manage their booth each week, but the trips they already had made were beginning to pay off.
Tim Burton had met local chefs at the markets, and those meetings eventually led to the creation of custom-made syrups for several Chicago upscale restaurants. The turn into the infused-syrup business has since led to his bourbon, brandy and rum-infused maple syrup specialties, products that are gaining attention across the Midwest.
Then the Burtons began staging a Maple Syrup Festival, a two-weekend affair that takes place at their Medora farm every March. And if you ask Tim Burton, Indiana is the perfect place to hold such an event.
“Indiana is where the sap flows first, where maple syrup flows first in the world,” he said.
The event, hosted by Burton’s Maplewood Farm, got its start when the couple decided they wanted their farm’s offerings to help benefit the Heads Up Foundation, which helps children born with craniofacial anomalies. Tim Burton, who was born with a cleft lip, has a niece, Katelyn Turner, who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
Her parents, Kenny and Kelly Turner, started the foundation. Tim Burton said he and his wife approached his parents with the idea to create a syrup festival to raise money for the foundation.
Eventually, they decided all net proceeds from the event would benefit Riley Hospital for Children’s CampAbout Face, a weeklong camp at Bradford Woods near Martinsville for kids born with craniofacial anomalies.
The event now offers visitors a wealth of entertainment and syrup-sweetened treats during the first two weekends of March each year. Guests can park at the high school, where the Heads Up Foundation has rented space to entertain.
At the school, guests can meet local artisans, hear live bluegrass music and meet the record holder cited in Guinness World Records’ book for the highest pancake flipping in the world: John Young from a company called Chris Cakes.
“It’s really entertaining. He’ll flip pancakes to you from 20 feet,” Tim Burton said.
Burton’s Maplewood Farm is gearing up for another festival this year with sponsor King Arthur Flour.
The King Arthur Sweet Victory Challenge, a baking competition using maple syrup and King Arthur Flour as the main ingredients, will take place at the school, and visitors can taste the competitors’ creations. A shuttle bus ($8 for adults; $6 for kids and seniors; the rest of the festival is free) takes guests from the school to the Burton’s farm in the nearby hills.
There’s more history to be learned on the farm, where re-enactments take place throughout the festival to show guests how maple sap is extracted and how maple sugar and syrup are made.
Visitors will have a variety of food to taste, from maple pork chops, maple baked beans, red potatoes, rolls and drinks to pancakes drenched in pure maple syrup.
MORE THAN A CELEBRATION
What: National Maple Syrup Festival
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 2, 3, 8 and 9
Where: Burton’s Maplewood Farm, 8121 W. County Road 75S, Medora; Medora Community School, 82 S. George St. Events are ongoing and take place in the Medora school and at the rustic Maplewood Farm. Shuttle buses take visitors between the two venues.
What to expect: Music, history re-enactors, demonstrations, crafts, face painting, Paul Bunyan lumberjack activities, horse-drawn wagon rides, pioneer games, artwork, the world’s greatest pancake flipper (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), artisan foods, petting zoo and syrups to sample and purchase. Sweet Victory Challenge, where amateur cooks will compete for prizes with their own original maple syrup recipes. The dishes will be judged by professional chefs and sampled by lucky visitors.
Cost: Admission into Medora Community School is free; to visit Burton’s Maplewood Farm, you must purchase a shuttle bracelet. Cost is: children up to 4 free; youth 5 to 15, $6; adults 16 to 64, $10; seniors 65 and older, $8. Donate one canned good for $2 discount.
Proceeds: Heads Up Foundation to support craniofacial anomalies program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.