Double M

One of my dearest friends frequently calls me Double M because of my initials.  It’s a great little phrase yet a quick Google search shows that I am not the only Double M around.  Double M Pizza, Double M Gaited Horses, Double M Auto Sales. Food, animals, cars . . so why not have  a Double M day?

Edgar Thomson WorksMy Double M day?  Mills and Maple!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 On Sunday, I drove down to pick up my parents for a day out and about.  I left early to get some treats for them at the newish Five Points Artisan Bakery in Squirrel Hill. Five Points Artisan Everything is so good, but get there early as they frequently sell out early.  Taking the long route to the my folks’ house through Braddock,  Munhall and towards McKeesport, I ended up driving past two of my favorite places.  The first is the Joe Magarac statue across from Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock.  This legend, to me, represents toils, troubles and strength of the Eastern European immigrant population that worked in the mills.  Joe is supposed to protect the mill workers.  Drive on down to Braddock Avenue across from the Edgar Thomson Works to see Joe in person. It is a terrific place to ponder things.  There really is no parking right in front of him, but you can park and sit across the road in the small parking area near the entrance to ET.  According to legend,  Joe  “ate that hot steel like soup and cold steel ingots like meat.”

Joe Magarac

After that, my road trip took me past the Clairton Mill, a steel mill and coke production facility which is one of the world’s largest in the world. It is still working, belching out much cleaner smoke that the 1960s when our sky and water were both yellow from pollution from the mill..  I know it’s odd, but I find comfort in the sulfur smell near the old coke plants.  Smells like home.

Next, I picked the folks up and we ventured to my second M of the day .   … maple. It was open house weekend for a whole pile of sugar camps in Somerset County.  I went to the event last year and it was so great that I had to do it again..  Once you see the effort that goes into producing maple sugar and syrup, there is a real appreciation and value to the cost of true maple products.  We made maple sugar and spotza and sampled maple popcorn, maple cookies, maple syrup topped sundaes and more. Maple Sap Evaporator At the camp, we watched the big, fancy evaporator do its job to morph maple sap into syrup.  The trees can only be tapped until early April, so if you have the chance, go check it out in the next few weeks. If you’ve never been to a real hidden treasure, the Somerset Historical Center, do pay them a visit. It is a wonderful place to learn all of the agricultural history of Somerset County and surrounding areas.

So, the Double M day of mills and maple ended as it began, with a drive down the lonely roads past old mills, with my windows rolled down for a sniff of my childhood.

 


The Laurel Highlands in April

Yes, it is April. But it’s April in southwestern Pennsylvania, so one can expect any type of weather. And yesterday, on the Laurel Highlands tour, we had about everything Mother Nature can dish out . . . snow, sleet, rain and sun. . . and we still had a great time.

Okay, so it didn't look like this outside yesterday. But it was snowing when we got on our way.

Deb and I carefully select our stops because we love what each location is doing with regards to food.  These are all hardworking food artisans or business owners who have a true passion for what they do.  We are always excited to have our groups get to know these wonderful folks out in the backroads of Western PA.  We try to mix it up . . some shopping, a little history, maybe a cooking demo, a tour of a kitchen. . so that there is something for everyone.

Our buddy, Jim Koontz, at The Compass Inn Museum

Chef Mark Henry from Treetops restaurant.

We also hand select the samples we give out, whether on the bus or in the goody bags.  We never pass out anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We also always like and respect the artisans who have crafted the foods that we sample. It’s a very important part of my company’s mission.   Companies such as Wild Purveyors, Millers Mustard, LaDorita Dulce de Leche and One Tuff Cookie and others provide our region with top notch foods. They are wonderful additions to the tours.

We can't forget Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Aunt Anna's Biscotti (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

The stops on our tours are amazing, but the guests on the tours are just as fantastic.  It is truly our pleasure to spend a day with them.  The tour is more like a day out with friends rather than a “canned”  guided tour. It’s relaxed and informal.  And we want everyone to have a good time.

Mouth-watering Desserts at Treetops in Acme

The current set of tours begin and end at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville.  Karen Novak does a spectucular job of getting us some caffeine and a few treats in our bellies before we get on our way for a day of nibbling and dining. The day after each tour, I am always grateful for the wonderful people at our stops and our on tour bus.  Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun for us!!


Maple Mania

I’m addicted to maple syrup.  It all began in January when I tasted maple cotton candy at the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg, continued through February when I visited Jan Dofner at the Levi Deal Mansion in Meyersdale ( home of the PA Maple Festival), and now the obsession rages on as I experiment daily with new recipes using maple sugar and maple syrup.   In addition to eating maple syrup flavored yogurt, maple granola, maple rolls and maple candy while in Meyersdale, I visited a few maple sugar camps and became intrigued with the whole process.  Making maple syrup and maple sugar, even with today’s methods, is still a labor intense process. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup!!  And once you’ve tasted the real thing, you’ll never ever go back to maple flavored corn syrups.

The Pennsylvania Maple Festival is March 26, 27, 29 and 30 and April 1-3 in Meyersdale, in southern Somerset County.

If you want to learn more about maple syrup, Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District is offering a class taught by Molly Enos of the Paul Bunyan Maple Sugar Camp in Rockwood. I’ll be there to put my two cents in, too.


Maple Syrup Time!

This past weekend, I drove deep into Somerset County on a quest for maple syrup.Well, really, I was just bored and wanted to get away for a few days and maple syrup was a good excuse.  My first stop was at the Somerset Historical Center, just a short skip off the good ol’ PA Turnpike.  Since the outdoor areas are closed until spring, I walked through the indoor exhibits of  PA history, old farm equipment and maple sugaring accessories. I really liked this place.  Of course, shopping is always in order, so the gift shop beckoned.  I fell in love with an adorable house shaped maple sugar mold, and was excited when Mark Ware   showed me a sample of how the maple sugar house looked when unmolded.  I wish they sold those at the gift shop!

A picture filled tretise on maple sugaring and a little package of goose beans ( the beans are a story in themselves, for another time) in hand and I was on my way. Next stop? Meyersdale, home of the upcoming PA Maple Festival. The Levi Deal Mansion was my headquarters. . .. beautiful B&B, lovelier than lovely hosts, and perfect food.

"Somerset" style chicken soup - yummmmm

With suggestions from Jan and Michael at Levi Deal, I visited the Milroy Farms  Sugar Camp for syrup and sugar, the Springs Store for donuts, Landis Bakery for gobs and more.  Yes, it was a festival of carbs.

Milroy Sugar Camp in Salisbury, PA

In my conversations with locals, I learned a lot about sugaring and maple syrup, and about living in southern Somerset County.  Even without autumn leaves or budding trees, this area still charms.  It’s only about 1 1/2 hours from Pittsburgh, so it works for a day trip, but it’s so peaceful there, with so many culinary treasures, staying overnight is a must.