Last year I had a lot of fun experimenting with maple sap in the kitchen. We made sap tea, sap beer, sap poached sweet potatoes, sap soda, and maple baked beans… mmm! I had borrowed buckets and spiles from neighbors to tap several trees with the students in my after school program. We harvested more than enough sap to taste test, boil down, and cook with.
This year I missed having sap to cook with, so I decided to try to tap a maple in our yard without buying any supplies. Buckets or milk jugs are pretty easy to find around the house. What I really needed was a spile, or tap. Using a method common before metal was widely available, I hollowed out the inside of a sumac branch.
Staghorn sumac is a common small tree in eastern North America. It has big red clusters of seeds that have a great sour flavor and can be used to make tea or a locally sourced substitute for lemonade. The centers of its branches are very pithy, making them easy to hollow out and make tubing or spouts.
Making sumac spiles was easy, but it went below freezing and I have yet to see if they work well. With forecasted temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap will flow and I’ll find out soon! For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school, check out this blog post. For games and activities to liven up and inform the process for elementary school students, check out this blog post.