Minnesota is known for its cold weather and its snowy winters. Northern Minnesota even more-so (yeah ya betcha). But this winter is one for the books – it feels like it has gone on forever and will never end. During April we’re usually putting all of our winter shovels, snowblowers, and boots away. Instead, we’re still ice fishing and counting on snow plows to get us to work.
But it’s April and it’s time to get out of the house before we go insane. That’s why Russ and I decided to check out the annual Maple Syrup Festival in Vergas (not to be confused with Vegas), Minnesota. We’re usually so busy this time of year switching between cold and warm seasons that we don’t have time to head out of town for a Saturday.
The Maple Syrup Festival is the epitome of Minnesota. When we arrived in Vergas, every sign in town welcomed us to the festival.
We headed over to the community center (no GPS needed in small town Minnesota – just watch for where the people are) and when we entered we were greeted by two county pageant queens and music from the live bluegrass band.
A couple ladies dished us up fresh-made pancakes, REAL maple syrup and the most delicious breakfast sausage I had ever had. The sausage was more like what you would expect at a cook-out rather than a breakfast event but the flavors were a perfect compliment to the syrup.
After we got done eating, I asked the volunteers what kind of sausage they had served. They gave me one word – Ketter’s. They obviously knew from the look on my face that I had no idea what they were talking about. They explained that Ketter’s is the meat shop in downtown Frazee, just a town over.
We checked out the displays throughout the perimeter of the community center that included information on collecting maple syrup, local award winning syrups, and maple syrup milk shakes. As we headed out, the judges were just setting up for the maple syrup tasting competition.
Of course our next stop was going to be Ketter’s in Frazee, but we made sure to check out the world’s largest loon as we headed out of town.
Within 15 minutes we rolled into Frazee and we were greeted by the World’s Largest Turkey! (Gobble, gobble)
Just like in Vergas, no GPS was needed to navigate to the business district and find Ketter’s. Walk in the front door and you’re automatically surrounded by the delicious smell of a smokehouse. They had coolers and freezers lined up throughout the store with a variety of chicken, seafood, beef, sausage, cheese – you name it, they had it. It was difficult to decide what to take home but we settled on the breakfast sausage (obviously), potato sausage, beef sticks, and a couple other odds and ends that looked amazing.
I picked up a local free magazine by the door on the way out. As I was looking through I saw an ad for a local cheese company with over 120 cheeses in stock that was in the next town over. Away we went!
Bongards in Perham is a mecca for cheese lovers. Coolers line all of the walls and are filled to the brim with block cheeses, shredded cheese, sliced cheese, soft cheese – cheese, cheese, cheese! As cheese lovers, we wanted to buy everything in site but left with our bank account intact and a (large) bag filled with a variety of cheese.
With our cooler filled with local meats and cheeses we hit the road to our final syrup destination – the Sugar Shack at Maplewood State Park. Maplewood is our favorite Minnesota state park and we spend most summer weekends there fishing, camping, and hiking. In 2017 they built the Sugar Shack and started harvesting sap from the maple trees and turning it into syrup for visitors to purchase.
We heard from volunteers who make the syrup about the process of boiling the sap to create syrup. The delicate process is similar to candy making and the temperature and duration of the boil is key to avoid burning or thickening the syrup. It takes around 30-40 gallons of sap to from a sugar maple tree to get a gallon of pure maple syrup.
Additional volunteers were on hand outside of the shack giving demonstrations on how Native Americans made syrup, how to identify maple trees, and giving wagon rides.
After a short scenic drive around the park, we headed home after our sweet syrupy Minnesota adventure day.