Midway along Route 6 between Erie and the Poconos sits the small town of Wellsboro, PA. Until a couple weeks ago, I had never heard of this place. Maybe you’re like me? Or maybe you’re like the thousands of faithful who vacation in this little mountain town every year?
For a town of 4,000, Wellsboro has a lot going for it…. particularly its sweet surprises!
Maple syrup and more!
This region, part of the Appalachian Mountains, provides a great environment for maple trees. Every March, the Potter-Tioga County Maple Festival celebrates all things maple: syrup, candy, sauces, candles and even butter. This is the sweetest festival you’ll ever enjoy!
No worries if you can’t make it to Tioga County in March. The farms are open year round. Patterson Maple Farms provides tours to visitors, showing them every step of the maple making process. From November to April, visitors will see the various steps of the process being performed, from active tapping and maple boiling as the sap is harvested to the creation of candies and spreads. Year-round, this busy farm is working to provide maple to visitors from around the world.
Other local maple farmers, like Jim and Dora Tice, also produce best quality maple products in small, careful batches for the rest of us to enjoy. I had the pleasure of meeting Dora, who on hearing that my son can no longer eat “regular candy” due to a corn allergy gave me a bag of pure maple candy for him to savor. She pointed out that the candy is low glycemic and safe for many on sugar restricted diets as well.
I stocked up on maple candy, pure maple syrup and maple sugar and other sweet surprises before coming home. I can’t wait to try the many other recipes I’ve recently discovered, like this one for maple pecan bacon sticky buns! Sweet surprises indeed!
Oh friends…. My eyes welled with tears as I typed the words “Highlands Chocolates.” This little chocolate factory certainly delivers sweet surprises like pretzel bark, Oreo bark and other chocolate treats. The chocolate is good, very good. It’s carefully tempered to be used in the creation of confections. I’m partial to the dark chocolate, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at their milk or white chocolate creations.
But, the story at Highlands Chocolate is about so much more. You see, the company is owned and operated by Partners In Progress, Inc. (PIP), a non-profit organization committed to helping people with disabilities develop and implement vocational, residential and social skills to improve their lives — and enrich the community as well.
The chocolate makers, recipients of PIP’s services, are supervised by 5 staff members who oversee work on the factory floor. Each employee with a disability is trained in a task specific to his or her skills and abilities, patiently. One supervisor told us that one of the girls wanted to learn how to make curling ribbon curl. She worked for hours to master the skill. When she couldn’t get it during working hours, she took the ribbon home to keep practicing. The next day, she brought that ribbon back to work, perfectly curled, proud of her accomplishment.
Our tour guide, Michael, explained each step of the chocolate making process. He introduced us to the rest of the staff, explaining their work, how long they had been employed at Highland and joked with the supervisors. He knows his job well, and he does it proudly.
Highland Chocolates is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are located at the intersection of Shumway Hill Road and Route 6 in Wellsboro and welcome people for tours during business hours (allow 30 minutes). If bringing a large group (more than 10), call ahead to make arrangements.