Back Creek Farms is a family tradition located three miles up Upper Back Creek Road from Route 84. Pat Lowry’s roots run deep in this valley. His family’s gravestones in a nearby cemetery go back to the Revolutionary War era. Pat’s father still lives in the house built by Pat’s great-great uncle, where both he and his mother and sister were born. Just like in the past, when home-grown and homemade foods were a necessity, Pat and Valerie Lowry still make maple syrup and maple candy in the early spring, the Highland County special, yellow transparent applesauce, in the summer and simmer apple butter down in the fall. Though the old sugar house is still standing, the Lowry’s built a new sugar house in 2005 closer to a larger “sugarbush” –a grove of sugar maple trees. With luxuries such as running water and electricity, the two- person team boils down approximately 16,000 gallons of sugar water to produce about 400 gallons of maple syrup.
“It’s at least a 12 hour day” Valerie laughs, “We kind of hibernate in January because we know what’s coming.” Each morning, Pat lights the morning fires, while Valerie makes breakfast. After breakfast, Valerie boils down water and collects the buckets hanging from trees nearby while Pat drives to collect the sugar water from sugarbushes at other farms along Back Creek.
After the sugar water is boiled down to syrup, it is finished over more precise heat and filtered for bottling. Though they have some modern machinery that helps speed up the syrup making process, they still use the sugar pan used by Pat’s great grandmother. This slower method of cooking the syrup down over a wood fire infuses the syrup with a slightly smoky flavor that is unmatched by syrup hurried through conventional methods. Though making syrup takes longer, there’s something strangely magical about the maple-scented steam rising from the pans over wood fires. “It’s an addiction that you just have to feed,” says Pat. And when the syrup is finally ready to be bottled, Pat smiles, “It’s the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.”
The Lowrys open their farm for tours during the maple season, however, during the Highland County Maple Festival they can be found at their booth on the Courthouse lawn. Local preschoolers are invited for field trip to the farm each year. “There’s just nothing like seeing kids smile at the first taste of real syrup” Pat says.
To experience the farm for a longer period of time, hear some of Pat’s stories about the good old days, or relax by the fire or in the hot tub, guests are invited to stay at the Cabin on Back Creek. If you can’t make it out to the farm, you might want to check out their feature in Edible Blue Ridge. Syrup can be ordered through the Lowrys or purchased locally at Evelyn’s Pantry in Monterey. A variety of stores, in the Valley and beyond, stock Back Creek Farms syrup including: Virginia Made in Staunton, at Monticello, on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Wholesome Foods in Edinburgh.
Valerie and Pat Lowry
8551 Upper Back Creek Rd