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Connections: How Food Defines a Region

 

By Jeff Martin

 

I canít help but make connections in my life.

At my age ó a spry 39, I must say ó there have been enough trails blazed throughout the north, south, east and western compass points of this grand country that a few of those trails, or themes, have crossed and/or repeated themselves.

Take for instance my unintended habit of living in places where the local sports teams struggle. I was born and raised not far from Cleveland, a city that holds a special place in the hearts of sports conspiracy theorists throughout the world.

Because Iím limited space in this introductory column, Iím hand-tied from talking about how similar the Browns resemble the Kansas City Chiefs, another team and athletic market I had the unfortunate opportunity to live near. From 2007 to 2012, I lived in the wind-torn landscape of Kansas City, witnessing all the while the fumbling and the bumbling of a once-great football franchise.

When I moved to the Springville area last August, I wasnít surprised that teams like the Bills and the Sabres perpetuated the dot-connecting theme that has become common in my life. But let me say ó life is more than just sports; itís also about food.

As disappointing as these sports markets continue to be, the cities of Cleveland, Kansas City and Buffalo excel beyond measure when it comes to its culinary climate. In Cleveland, sausage and chili and ribs reign. In Kansas City, all newly born children are born with a bottle of barbecue sauce in their hands.

And in the Buffalo and regions south, people have wings. And sponge candy. And maple syrup.

Approaching Enchanted Mountain residents this weekend is the first of two Maple Weekends, whereby producers across New York state prepare by jamming taps into maple trees as though they were kegs of beer and pull forth the precious sap, boil it at an extreme temperature and bottle it.

It wasnít until I started talking to some local producers, and tasting the fruits of their sweet labor, that I finally realized I was destined to live among a landscape chiseled not so much out of granite and limestone and shale but rather beef loins and chicken wings, all of which blanketed in some kind of sauce.

And yet there are differences. Many of the places in which I lived did not offer events like Maple Weekends, where literally dozens and dozens of maple producers open up their sugar shacks and businesses to show just how they do it. And for free.

In this edition of The Ellicottville Times, I visited and interviewed Tim and Missy Ulinger, a wonderful couple that live in the East Otto area (which for those of you who are unaware, is a mere 10ñ15 minutes from Ellicottville). They have what they call a ìside business,î Ulingerís Maple Farm, which is an absurd claim; anyone who invests the time and money in a business as the Ulingerís have are more than just weekend flea market vendors.

Packing up the car this week, I drove out to their property and watched how the whole process of making maple syrup works. Interestingly, the process isnít a manufacturing process so much as it is a removal process: sap is merely separated from its water, and that is that.

After the interview, while driving down the road with the sugary nectar taste still lingering in my mouth, I also learned a universal truth that connects all people regardless of the miles that separate them: that the soul of a place is in its food, and the people who are talented enough to show you how itís done.

The quality of food and the rich culture that makes up this area, especially Ellicottville and its surrounding environs, has prompted me to share with you on a weekly basis in this newspaper my personal experiences within the village and its neighbors.

I hope you enjoy it.

For more information about how you can enjoy Maple Weekends to the fullest, visit

www.mapleweekend.com and www.enchantedmountains.com.

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