In the quiet cool morning hours of fair time in Southern Idaho, the heat is turned on deep frying cookers while volunteers crack eggs, heat water, measure yeast, sugar and flour. Mixers whirr as Cassia County’s famous Maple Bars begin taking shape. By 9:30 a.m. golden delicious Maple Bars drenched in sweet maple frosting are handed over to eager customers already waiting in line.
Thousands of maple bars will be made in the five days of fair and hundreds of people will stand in line just to buy them. “I come here every year just for the Maple Bars,” says one faithful fairgoer. “It’s worth the wait.”
With a shaded area equipped with fans for ventilation, the LDS Declo Stake adds on a section to their booth to accommodate the demand for maple bars. It takes about 12 full-time workers to mix, roll, cut, fry and frost, as well as take orders. In addition, two supervisors oversee refilling bins of sugar and flour, restocking eggs, yeast and oil. Friendship and camaraderie doesn’t come cheap in this booth. It takes a concerted effort on everyone’s part to meet the demands of fair goers as maple bars are often sold before they finish cooling.
In the late 1970s, Bernadine Fillmore had just been appointed Declo Stake Relief Society President, a position that oversees the needs of women in the LDS Church. With that appointment she was put in charge of the fair booth that had just undergone changes to meet state health requirements. Bernadine was looking for something to sell that would stand out and draw people to the booth.
Bernadine turned to her friend and neighbor, Laverne Darrington, for help. Laverne was well known in the area for her maple bars. She owned two large platters that she often filled with maple bars to take around to people recovering from illness, having babies or just to be neighborly. Laurie Webb of the Raft River Area remembers riding with her mother as a little girl delivering mail in Declo. She always looked forward to Laverne’s mailbox as occasionally there would be two maple bars sitting inside. Maple bars might be a perfect fit for the fair, they concluded.
Bernadine and Laverne altered the original recipe so that it could be made in bulk. They located used equipment and built shelves to hold pans that would raise the maple bars. On the day they were to set up, Bernadine drove her car loaded with equipment to the gates and realized her husband, who was on the tractor baling in the field, had the pass in his pocket. She recalls having to carry all the ingredients and equipment from the parking lot to the booth. She also remembered using her newly purchased mixer. By the time the fair was over three days later, her mixer was nearly worn out.
Maple bars were a hit from the beginning. “There was a line up the first night,” laughs Bernadine, now 90 years old. “People wouldn’t go away.”
Today there are 25 employees per shift and 6 shifts per day to run the front booth and maple bar production. Large delivery trucks drop supplies in bulk: 175 gallons of oil, 2,700 pounds of flour, 1,050 pounds of sugar, 5,400 eggs, and 4 gallons of maple flavoring. Four mixers take care of dough and frosting. A custom-built deep frying cooker with a large screen closing down on top of the maple bars allows them to stay submerged in the hot oil, eliminating the need to turn them over while frying. On cooling racks, the maple bars are covered with maple frosting and boxed for customers.
Note: If you order a meal at the front of the booth you get one maple bar. If you want more than one go to the Maple Bar booth on the side to wait in line with dozens of other fair goers in hopes of getting a chance at the “fresh hot ones.” It’s worth it!