Last week the girls and I were so excited to head out to Green Lane park for a presentation that they do. I never knew, but they do it every year. The park and the other parks in the county do a lot of education presentations like this. Since we are always interested in learning something new, that we can do as a family and get to have some fun at the same time, we packed up and headed to check it out.
I have always loved the idea of making maple syrup. When I was little I went to a place where they made maple syrup and learned all about it. They were a big farm and made large quantities of it. And while I knew it was labor intensive, I think they gave us the short version of it since we were in 5th grade or so.
Maple Sugar trees are only grown in a small part of the world. Now, maple syrup can be made from other maple trees. It is usually made from sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, although it can also be made from other maple species. But in my area they make it from Sugar Maples.
I never knew that we could actually make maple syrup from the trees in my own yard. Well, that is, if I have enough trees and have the patience to actually make it. This time of year is the perfect time to make it, and actually right now, since the season is only about 6 weeks long, there is only about 2-3 weeks left. The weather conditions need to be right. If has to be cold at night, around freezing and then it needs to be warmer during the day. The sap settles in the base of the tree at night. Then as the warmer temps come in, like a balloon, the sap rises up inside the tree. As the sap comes back down at night, it drips out of the hole that is bored into the tree, into the buckets. This happens every night until you have collected all of the sap that you should. You should only collect so much from the tree, because you want to keep it healthy.
Once the sap is collected it has to be boiled. And boiled, and boiled. It takes a lot of sap to make a small jar of maple syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. It can take a day to boil it down to where it needs to be. And it is a mess. Everything gets sticky. In a sugar shack, you will actually stick to the floor as you walk. So you can imagine, it gets all over everything. In a commercial company there would use cookers, but this is the type that someone could use at home. In the old days, it would even be done over a fire with a kettle, being very careful not to burn it. They would pull up parts of the sap, letting it cool off some, and then add it back in to keep the temperature lower, to prevent burning. Once it burns, it is over and all of it is useless, and the smell is awful.
No one really knows how people discovered maple sap and all the yumminess it could give. There are legends of course. We do know it was discovered by the natives living in North America. There is a Lenape legend that says a Lenape man came home from hunting one day and stuck his axe into the tree so as not to lose it. The next morning, he got up, and headed out to hunt for his family. The wife decided she would make a stew for dinner. She filled her pot with water and all of the other goodies for the stew. But as the stew cooked, the water evaporated so she would get more water from the pot that was kept at the base of the tree. She did this through out the day. By the end of the day, when the couple began to eat the stew, the husband was so impressed and said it was the best stew she had ever made. Of course, it was the sap from the tree that had dripped into the water pot and had sweetened the stew as the water evaporated all day.
These days maple syrup has a lot of competition from the fake stuff on the shelves. The fake stuff is much cheaper. But personally it does not taste nearly as good as real maple syrup. One of the ladies who was teaching about the history of maple syrup wanted to give everyone a test. Could you tell the difference? On one finger she gave a little bit from one bottle and on the other a little bit from another. She polled to see who could pick out the real from the fake. Some people didn’t know for sure. Once they learned which was which, most people did prefer the real maple syrup. Willow actually says that she likes the real stuff but liked the fake better. I am going to chalk that up to being 4.
Have you ever went to something like this? Have you ever wondered how real maple syrup was made? What kind do you prefer?