Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Maple Tapping

Our local metropark offers a lot of education opportunities during the year. Last weekend we decided we'd go to their sugar bush and watch them tap the maples and make syrup.

It was pretty cold and humid, so we were pretty chilled most of the time. In fact, Peter lasted 30 minutes before he was so cold he couldn't handle it and Jonathan ran him to the car to warm up. David and I endured the cold.

David got to be the honored "Tap Holder".

I managed to take this picture right before my phone died from the cold.... And right before Peter just could no longer take the frigid temps. (We try to keep mittens on the kid, but he sucks those two fingers of his and refuses to leave them on.)

When we went into the sugar bush (a grove of maple trees) we found a tree that didn't have a tin bucket already tapped into place, then our guide drilled a small hole into the tree. Already sap poured from the tree! It was really quite easy! Then David hammered the tap into the hole and we all got a taste of little drops of sap. It is actually like water with a tiny bit of sugar added to it, nothing special. We learned that the American Indians used to drink the sap straight as an immunity booster before the spring weather set in.

Maple sap can only be collected during those few weeks before spring weather really starts. Night temperatures need to be below freezing with day temperatures getting up into the 40's consistently. This starts the trees sucking nutrients and sap up into their limbs in preparation for budding and sprouting leaves. After the tree gets buds you will not be able to get any more sap. We went right at the end of the season, so they were still collecting lots of sap but probably will not be able to collect anything much longer.

After tapping our tree we walked around checking under the tin-tents that are set on top of the sap pails. David found a very full one, one that had been overlooked during the collection that morning. It was as clear as water. I'm not sure why I was so surprised.

Then we paid a visit to the sugar shack where we saw how they boiled down their sap into the syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. In a good season a single tree will produce 10 gallons... Now I understand why maple syrup is so dang expensive!

After that David and I went and watched a demonstration on how the American Indians boiled down syrup and made maple sugar cakes. Turns out that the process of making syrup and sugar that we currently used was developed by the Indians and the colonials modified the process of extraction with their European system. It was a fascinating trip!

After we stopped by their barns and saw sheep and lambs, goats and kids, pigs and piglets, mules, cows, and chickens. Peter had never seen such creatures! He was most impressed with the piglets and chickens. And piglets have very dry, rubbery noses that feel like silly putty. For some reason I always imagined pigs as having wet noses...

With next week being spring break I believe we'll make a trek back to Kensington to see the animals again. A sow was set to have her piglets this week some time. Even smaller piglets than the ones we saw would be fun to see. :)

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