Maple syrup is a family tradition at Parsons Farm in Charlevoix. It has been for more than 100 years.
Though making “liquid gold” started as a pastime with friends and family, it has evolved over the years into a thriving local business. Today, the tradition continues at Harwood Gold Cafe.
When owners Amber and Phil Munday took over the family farm a year and a half ago, they wanted to make maple syrup their business. Their parents thought they were crazy. “My mom was a teacher, and my dad worked the farm but always had another job. Growing up, making maple syrup was a fun hobby we did as opposed to a livelihood,” Amber says.
“Phil is a chef and saw huge potential. Sugar is so versatile, and my parents had worked hard to create a quality product. They had a returning customer base at the local farmers market, so we decided to make this a real business.”
Working with Amber’s sister and business partner, Katie Parsons Untalan, they opened Harwood Gold Cafe in downtown Charlevoix. “The success of our farm, and the ability to keep the farm in our family for another generation is extremely important to me,” Katie says. “I think the growth of the business is happening very naturally because each of us is doing what we do best, and we’re pouring that into something we love.”
In the past year and a half, the team has created 45 new products. In addition to pure maple syrup, the cafe sells maple preserves, maple barbecue sauce, maple mustard, maple granola and other products with a sappy twist like maple syrup infusions.
Harwood Gold Cafe is mixing up your pancake routine with coffee bean, hazelnut, Madagascar vanilla, Michigan lavender, and mango-infused maple syrups. “Our ghost pepper infused maple syrup is being used in cocktails and as a savory and spicy glaze for ribs,” Amber says.
Harwood Gold Cafe also sells Phil’s meat pies, a favorite dish in Australia where he was born. “Meat pies are everywhere there,” he says. “I adapted the recipe to create a more gourmet version. They’re similar to a pasty but full of flavor and sauce.”
Phil first visited Charlevoix in 2010 while working as a personal chef on a Fort Lauderdale yacht. “When we pulled into the harbor I thought it looked like a movie set. You don’t see places like this,” he says. “I love the whole Northern Michigan area. The people, the lifestyle, how the winters are so unique from summers.”
Working with maple syrup at Parsons Farm has been a learning experience for Phil. “We don’t have maple trees in Australia so we have to import maple syrup from Canada, and it’s expensive,” Phil says. “It’s fun to be able to play with it and try new recipes.”
Try Phil’s recipe for honey maple ham below.
Visitors interested in learning how maple syrup is made can schedule a visit to Parsons Farm located off US31. “We want to offer an experience,” Amber says. “At the cafe, we explain how products are made just 8 miles down the road in our commercial kitchen. Visitors can shop and then go on a maple tour at the farm.”
Amber recommends touring the farm in the spring when the trees are being tapped. The annual open house in March walks visitors through the entire process from tapping to boiling the syrup. Guests can also explore the farm at the annual farm-to-table dinner. Find more information about current and upcoming events here.
Recipe: Honey Maple Ham
- 3 to 4 pounds ham
- About 20 cloves
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup orange juice
- ⅓ cup pineapple juice
- Grated zest of one orange
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- Pineapple slices
- Preheat the oven to 325°. Score the ham in a criss-cross pattern and insert cloves approximately 1 inch apart along score lines. Bake 1½–2 hours, depending on weight. (Ham should cook a half-hour for every pound.)
- Simmer the rest of the ingredients except the pineapple slices for 5 minutes. Brush this mixture on ham every 15 minutes during the last half-hour of baking.
- Cover ham with pineapple slices during the last half-hour of baking.
- To make a gravy with the pan drippings, make a paste with 2 tablespoons melted butter and 2 tablespoons flour. Whisk into pan drippings and bring to a simmer.
Harwood Gold Cafe is located at 230 Bridge St. in Charlevoix.