Nothing like a good old-fashion syrup steam bath.

As is tradition in Western New York, sometime toward the end of March is Maple Weekend. It is the time of year when the sap is hopefully running free from the trees to produce God's greatest gift to humanity . . . real Maple Syrup (capital M and S required).

Ellie and I met her Dad for a lovely pancake breakfast at an old farm building next to a good old-fashioned sugar shack. The pancakes were delicious, probably because of the bath in fresh syrup. Once the food was properly consumed, we walked over to greet the friendly Grandpop who runs the operation. Upon entering the sugar shack, however, we quickly were surprised by the low visibility.

The smell of cooking syrup was wafting through the air, and it was wonderful. One thing I always enjoy about events out in the country is the willingness of people to stand and talk to complete strangers for what can turn into hours about any subject, really. Often they involve fun farm stories, like how the Grandpop, who was running the syrup operation, basically chopped off his thumb splitting wood the previous day. Of course, he refused medical attention because he had finally got the stove hot enough for syrup making. His injury was all played down as he said to his grandson, "Grandma bit me!"

Once we left this lovely farm, we moved on to the next place, which way up in elevation (and snow-covered) and outside the "downtown area" of Arcade. We were the only people at this destination, and we got the royal treatment, including maple syrup ice cream, loads of free samples, and a full tour. They use the reverse-osmosis system, which speeds up the boiling process by removing tons of extra water from the sap prior to boil. These folks were awesome and showed us all over their recently expanded operations.

It's always a blast to go out and spend even just a few hours touring the different farms, but I realized that the key to making the day awesome is taking the time to talk to the family behind it because they are usually more than interested in showing you how proud they are of their farm. It's also a great way to learn tips and tricks for when we tap trees next . . .

A little bit of a step up from our backyard operation!

A little bit of a step up from our backyard operation!