Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sweet Indiana

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.

And so I traveled to Medora to participate in this springtime event and to help 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. About 30 finalists were chosen from more than 500 recipes sent from all over the country and their recipes were 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.  My job, along with five others, was to judge the Youth Breakfast.  The judges were a diverse group that included chefs from places such as Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville, print and TV  journalists, the screenwriter/director of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy” and even a local blacksmith --Medora, set amidst a rural landscape dotted with covered bridges and round barns, is the kind of place where there are still blacksmiths.

While tasting the entries, served by the chefs who prepared them, I couldn’t help noticing that in the crowd of people watching us (we were also being televised and believe me, it’s tough to eat knowing that a camera is focused on you), was a large family wearing Native American garb.

After our judging forms were finalized and the winners announced, I discovered that one of my favorite dishes, the Native American Maple Meatballs, had won first place and had been created by Elijah Batz, a 9-year-old and one of the children in a Native American outfit. 

He told me that his family made maple syrup every spring, he loved meatballs and had visited a buffalo farm in Lincoln City, Indiana and so had taken those ideas and devised a recipe.  The meatballs, Batz explained, were also based on Native American food traditions.

Elijah’s 12-year-old sister Martha had submitted a recipe for maple soufflé and though it made it into the finals and was one of my favorites, she didn’t win. Martha vowed to return next year to best her brother and win.

One of the chef's was ChickiePoo, whose parents started a restaurant with the same name in Madison, Indiana as a way for the family to be together while ChickiePoo fights acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  For more info on the restaurant and Chickiepoo, visit

After the judging, I boarded the shuttle bus to the Burton farm, where they have 1400 taps (tapping a tree is the way that the sap, which rises after a cold night and warm day cycle typical of early spring, is siphoned from the tree) and five miles of the tubing used for tapping. After collecting the sap, it is sent to the rustic looking “Sugar Shack” where it processed into syrup.  Inside the shack is a state-of-the-art evaporator used to boil the syrup.

But this is the modern way.

Syrup used to be made by boiling the sap in big open kettles above a roaring open fire. During the National Maple Syrup Festival the old-fashioned ways are on display. And so by following a winding pathway through the woods, I moved through history, watching syrup making as it was done by the varied people who had lived in these Southern Indiana hills.  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, 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.

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.  

For more information about the National Maple Syrup Festival visit  For recipes, visit

Martha Batz’s Maple Soufflé

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 tablespoons King Arthur flour
2 cups milk
½ cups maple syrup
1teaspoon salt
6 eggs

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.  

Elijah Batz’s Native American Maple Meatball

1/2 pounds buffalo (bison meat) or ground sirloin
1/2 pound sausage
1 egg
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.


BookLady said...

Did you get a chance to enjoy the live music there? My buddy Dean Phelps wan one of the musicians. He was booked late so the spot was just TBA on the schedule

Kendal R. said...

Wish I could have met you there. Sounds like you had a great time!

Charles said...

I had no idea that Indiana had a maple syrup industry. I want to visit and enjoy, if / when I get the chance