Reflections From “The Granddaddy of the Maple Festival” – Part 3

“At that time, I was a member of the Lion’s Club, and I helped cook buckwheat cakes.  I’ve cooked enough buckwheat cakes to reach from here to Staunton and back!”

This is third and final story with “The Granddaddy of the Maple Festival,” Austin Shepherd.  He has enjoyed cooking up buckwheat cakes for visitors during the 60-year history of the Highland County Maple Festival.  He was asked if he had a favorite recipe or way to eat maple syrup.  “No, just fry some buckwheat cakes and pancakes, and pour the syrup on ‘em!” he says with a laugh.

One thing that has stayed consistent through the years is what he calls the liquid that first flows after tapping maple trees.  Like many other locals in the area, he does not call it sap.  Mr. Shepherd says, “I always called it sugar water.  We’d have about forty or fifty gallons of sugar water to make a gallon of syrup, so that’s the reason I called it sugar water.”

As far as the future of the Maple Festival, Mr. Shepherd gives his honest evaluation.  He continues, “Well, I hope it’ll maintain itself, but, unfortunately, most of the producers are getting old, and I worry a little bit about how long we can actually exist with the producers getting as old as they are, and no young people will actually come in and help make the syrup, so it – a future doesn’t look real good for it, but it’ll hold on long as people can do the work.  Of course, the, the real thing is keeping that sugar water flowing, and that’s what’s made it, and, like I said, a lot of people just come out to Highland just to see Highland County.  Where we’re located, it seems to make people come in, and I think that’ll keep us going.  Of course, that’s been the secret of the whole thing is people getting here.”

Overall, Mr. Shepherd feels that the festival is beneficial.  He states, “Well, I think it has added a lot to the county, though.  There’s nothing else really going on for people to do, and the civic organizations have made a lot of money making the foods available, and then they turn right around and put it back in to the county for youngsters for scholarships, and give money to the fire department and rescue squad, so it’s been a great thing for Highland County.”

In closing, Austin Shepherd does provide a straightforward answer on why he thinks people like maple syrup so much.  “Well, of course, the sweetness of it!” he exclaims with a laugh.

Allegheny Mountain Radio would like to thank the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center for information provided in the Local Legacies Project Report of the Highland Maple Festival that was used in this three-part series.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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