Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Field Trip - The Sap is Running

It's that time of year, the sap is running and it's time to make maple syrup.

The county had a demonstration at one of the forest preserves last weekend. I didn't dare attend but I knew a friend of mine would be going. She home schools her kids and this was a great learning opporutnity. She agreed to snap some pictures and take notes.

Certain atmospheric conditions cause the sap to start running up the tree from the roots. Sugar was stored in the roots last fall and when the tree gets the signal that spring is starting the sap moves up to help with leaf production. (This brings back memories of science class. Zylem and floem?)

The nighttime temperatures must be close to freezing and the day temps above freezing. The sap begins to flow. In order to place a tap without damage to the tree, it must be at least 30 inches around. Using a drill you make a small hole about waist high.

Here one of the children practices drilling a hole on a log that's laying at ground level. He looks like he's doing a good job.


A small spout is placed into the hole. The modern spouts have a small lip that forces the sap downward and a hook on which to hang a bucket. The lid is to keep leaves and debris from falling in.


The sap runs into the bucket. You'll notice that it's crystal clear. Drawing off the sap does not damage the tree in any way. The amount running out of one tap is very small in comparison with what the tree produces. The larger trees can support two taps.


There are different ways to boil down the sap to produce syrup. There are very expensive evaporators and home made versions. This is very basic. They've stacked concrete blocks, built a fire in the center and placed a grate on top. The raw sap is in the large pail.


They've placed three aluminum baking pans on top of the grate and ladled the sap into the pans. This simmers and releases the moisture. If the fire is too hot the mixture will scorch and burn. You want a cooking vessel that is low and flat, allowing for a large surface area to dispel the moisture.

The mixture was constantly stirred.


Real maple syrup is just delicious. It's the only thing my stepfather would allow in his house! Why is it so expensive? It takes over 4 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. In addition, the season is very short, usually only a few weeks. When the tree begins to bud out the process halts. Once the buds are produced the sap will produce bad tasting syrup.

How about you? Do you like real maple syrup? Have you ever seen a tree being tapped?

Thanks for coming along on this little field trip.


Heidi said...

OH, what a neat idea! When you come up I will have to give you some of our homemade stuff!! We do this on a bit larger scale, but what a fun thing for the kids to do!!!! SPRING is finally coming down the road!!!!

Anonymous said...

Nope... never saw a tree being tapped... but this post is making my mouth water for pancakes, or cornbread.... anything I can put syrup on!

The Blue Ridge Gal

chocolatechic said...

I read about it in Little House on the Prairie, does that count?

I heart maple syrup, maple sugar, maple candy, maple topped cream filled donuts, etc...

BittersweetPunkin said...

I think you and Vee need to have a chat...did you see her post for today?


Last year I attended my first Maple Syrup Festival in Elmvale, On. I loved the real fresh taste. I will go again this year!

Suzanne said...

Heidi - Is there anything you don't know how to do? Seriously. Everyone - this woman makes her own sauerkraut!!

Di - Yes, it's pancakes for me this morning. I've got a bottle of Barefoot Contessa's maple syrup in the fridge..... unless my family already scarfed it all up. I love your free headers over the Dandy Basket. Cool.

Chocolatechic - Yes! That counts. I love that maple sugar candy. I'm not quite sure how it's made. Perhaps it was discovered by accident when they boiled the syrup too vigorously and it crystallized. I guess I'll need to research it now.

Punkin - Not yet. I'm going blog visiting in just a moment.

Liberty - ANY EXCUSE for a festival. That's what I say. Maple syrup is as good as an excuse as any!

Thanks for visiting with me today. I need the company seeing as how I'm filled with cabin fever.

FarmHouse Style said...

My son tried to tap a pine tree to get Maple syrup the other day. Unfortuantely all he got was very sticky:-)

When he comes in from school today, I will read this post to him. He will enjoy it very much.


Vee said...

Oh now this really is weird!

Have you ever had a glass of maple sap? It's the most delicious sugar water you'll ever taste. As a whippersnapper, I used to lick the sap running down the side of trees. Yes, I've been a sugar lover from away back.

There is one oak in all that line of trees. One. It makes me laugh. I would even talk about my neighbor's oak grove in front of him and he'd never correct me! How is a gal supposed to learn? By observation? Geeze.

PatQ said...

OMG. My friend Barb was there and blogged about it here

Vicki's Bit-o-earth said...

Years ago I used to buy maple syrup from a guy in NH. It was the best ever! He got health problems and had to stop. I've never found a family maple syrup operation to buy from since. I buy bulk from Costco... but it doesn't even come close to that wonderful hand make syrup I used to buy. Do you know of any such "farm" that I could contact now?


Louise said...

This reminds me of reading Little House in the Big Woods when I was younger. But your pictures are definitely better! (Thank your friend.)

I've become somewhat addicted to real maple syrup. I didn't used to like it much, but my husband refuses to use anything else, and now I am pretty much the same way.

Barb and Steve said...

I saw your comment on my blog about being at the same place for this event. The little boy in the pic is the same too, I think. What a coincidence! I'm enjoying reading your blog!

Liz in PA said...

It takes many more than 4 gallons of sap to make a gallon of Maple Syrup!
...Most years many more....depending on the weather.

process requires a lot of
time and energy, because it
takes about 40 gallons of
sap to make just one gallon
of pure maple syrup. This is from the Penn State Maple Syrup Guide.

Liz in PA

Cottage Rose said...

Hello Suzanne; What great photos of the trees being tapped. I really don't care for real Maple Syrup, but my Honey Bunny sure does... And I have seen them tapping the trees before along time ago. It was really great fun. Everyone should see it just once......

Have a great week.

lifeinredshoes said...

I watched this process over at much time, so little reward!
I'm sure it's worth every minute.

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

We don't tap trees out here on the west it's all new to me...and most interesting! I like the real thing...and am thinking of maple syrup scones right about now.

KatKit13 said...

Oh you've brought back such lovely childhood memories. I grew up - here:

Pancake breakfasts, REAL syrup (to which I'm completely addicted), and all sorts of history, etc...

I LOVE Maple cream candy. Mmmmm

Mary said...

Wow, neat! I always think of that as a purely New England sort of thing... nice to know that spring is coming!