Cooking with Maple Sap

Sap flow was heavy this weekend in Vermont.  We’re entering that muddy and delicious season where driving down most rutted back roads is rewarded by the smell of sweet steam flowing out of a sugar shack.

sap-pourWe put in a few taps this year, but we don’t have an evaporator.  Home-made versions generally rely of a lot of wood or a lot of propane, and the cheapest commercial evaporators are all over $1000.  Why not just cook with sap?

We’ve had great luck each time we sneak sap into a recipe to add sweetness.  We’ve focused on foods that use water like tea, oatmeal, beer, and baked beans rather than cakes and cookies.

oatmeal-sapOatmeal: I boiled my oats in sap instead of water.  Topping it with sweet blueberries and sour raspberries and sprinkling walnuts on top made a delectable breakfast.  The oatmeal was mildly sweet.  If you’re used to unsweetened oatmeal, you’ll consider this a treat.  Compared to the flavored instant packets, however, the sap sweetness is much more subtle.

beer-sapBeer: We’ve been wanting to make more beer, so we’re starting out with a few kits.  We divided the ingredients for a Pale Ale batch in half.  For one half, we followed the instructions.  For the other, we used sap instead of water.  We can’t wait for the fermentation to finish so we can do a taste test!

tea-sapTea and Coffee: Tea and coffee are the simplest ways to enjoy sap.  Adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a cup of water, after all, reverses all that evaporation work.  For tea, all you need to do is seep your tea bag in boiled sap.  For coffee, use a french press so that you can substitute sap for water without making the internal parts of your coffee machine sticky.

Poached Sweet Potatoes: Our left over baked sweet potatoes needed to get sparked up.  I started by bringing 4 cups of sap to a boil in a frying pan.  The large surface area allows for quick evaporation.  I added rosemary, Bell’s seasoning, and garlic powder to the “broth.”  I was surprised by how quickly the water evaporated!  When the liquid was only about a centimeter deep, I mixed in a tablespoon of cranberry sauce and added my wedged sweet potatoes.  After a few minutes with periodic stirring, the chemistry of the broth changed and it became browner and sticky.  Deliciously beyond poached.  Voila: sap-glazed sweet potatoes!

sweet potatoes sap

Next up? Making Sap Soda by carbonating sap and different herbal sap teas in a Soda Stream machine.  Baked Beans by boiling dried pinto beans in an uncovered pot of sap rather than water.  I imagine that the hour+ of boiling required to soften the beans will allow quite a bit of water to evaporate.  And Poached Salmon in sap with ginger and soy sauce.  Comment below if you have other ideas I should try!!

Children and Nature Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Maple Syruping with Kids

tapped-treeIf you live in an area with Sugar Maple trees and are a parent, teacher, or neighbor of kids, I strongly encourage you to consider “Sugaring” with them.  Maple sap runs during the school year, making a Maple Project the perfect seasonal activity to bring into the classroom.  The learning opportunities are endless.  In the process of sugaring, we encounter:

  • all three states of water (solid ice, liquid water, and water vapor)
  • diameter and circumference measurements
  • seasonal changes in trees and discussion of tree health
  • ratios
  • parts of a tree and functions of the layers of a tree trunk
  • local history and lore
  • many opportunities to use all five senses
  • tools of all kinds: drills, taps, hammers, buckets, measuring tapes, evaporators, thermometers, and more

I’ve included activities most suited to active groups containing a wide age-range of elementary students.  Shelburne Farms’ Project Seasons and your state’s Maple Syrup Producers Association have additional resources if you’re looking for more ideas for your group of students.  I like to start with students in a circle around objects representing key vocabulary like tap, bucket, trunk, roots, measuring tape, and thermometer.  Once we all understand these concepts, we get outside and get moving!

sapSappy Sappy Flow Up My Tree (adaptation of Fishy Fishy Cross my Sea): Learn the function of sap for the tree and consider the impact of tapping on tree health

– Leading Questions: How does food stored in the roots and trunk get back to the buds of the tree so new leaves can grow?  How does a tree know when spring is coming?  At what temperature can frozen water turn to liquids?

  • Have students line up at one end of a gym or basket ball court/open running area
  • One adult stands in the middle, and is the “tap and bucket” – the hole in the tree that we drilled to collect sap. Explain that as sap droplets (students) flow up the tree, from the roots (one end of the court) to the branches (the other end) they bringing food to the buds.  Some sap, however, is “caught” by the tapped hole, and flows out into the bucket
  • The “it” adult, yells “sappy sappy flow up my tree!”
  • Tagged students must stay in the middle of the court, and become “holes” for the next round. All folks that are “it” chant “sappy sappy flow up my tree”, and the remaining group of sap droplets run across the space, trying to avoid the holes

-Group Questions: What happens when there is only one hole? What happens when there are a lot of holes? Does very much sap get to the buds so that they can grow into leaves?  Are there a lot of wounds, making trees more likely to get a disease?  As we will learn next, bark provides protection for the tree.  What number of holes is best for the tree?

HeartwoodSapwoodHeartwood, Sapwood (adaptation of Red Light, Green Light): Learn the parts of a tree trunk and their functions

  • Explain the parts of a trunk using a diagram or tree cookie
  • Give all students a name tag sticker (or masking tape) naming one part of the trunk to stick to their coat.  Review each part’s function, and have each student group think of a motion to depict their new identity (show right arm muscle, then left for strong heartwood, cross and re-cross hands in front of chest for protective bark)
  • Review what temperatures are above and below freezing.  Review that sap runs when it goes above freezing during the day, and freezes solid at night when temperatures goes below freezing
  • Start on one end of your running space
  • Teacher goes to other end.  Explain that instead of playing “red light, green light,” you’ll “Flow” and “freeze” according to the temperatures shouted by the teacher.  If she shouts a number below freezing, students may not move.  If she shouts a number above freezing, students may advance, making their motion, toward the teacher and opposite end of the court

MeasuringMeasuring “Trees” Activity (adapted from Project Seasons’ “Measuring Monsters and Midgets”)

  • Ask: How do we get sap from a tree? (we drill into sapwood (a.k.a. xylem – about 2 inches in), sap “leaks” out hole as it rises from roots to branches)
  • Think about our first running game.  Can we tap any size of tree?  Trees have to be certain size “wide” (not tall): their circumference is measured. Show Circumference Chart.  Have students use measuring tapes to measure their teacher, you, each other, and a bunch of students together. How many taps could we safely have if we were maple trees?

tap-and-hammerTasting Sap and Syrup

  • Yes, these running games make maple education fun.  Tasting maple syrup, however, can’t be beat.   Ask: What is the difference between sap and syrup? 40 gallons of sap must be evaporated to get one gallon of sap! In other words, 39 gallons of water must be turned into steam and go into the air!  What remains is maple syrup.
  • So sap is A LOT of water and some sugar, vitamins, and minerals the tree needs for food to make leaves.  Maple syrup is concentrated sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Taste samples!
  • Extension: have the group generate a list of description words (adjectives) that they might use to describe sap and/or syrup.  Each student can then use words off of the list to write a poem.

Homemade Local Eggnog

This holiday season I made eggnog for the first time.  It was surprisingly easy – thanks to our electric mixer.  My version was based on a recipe that used more milk than cream, and didn’t cook any of the ingredients.  We’ve been getting fresh raw milk from a local farm and our chickens are laying lots of eggs, so I had great ingredients to use.   Knowing the farmer is especially important with raw eggs and dairy!  I used our neighbor’s maple syrup instead of the white sugar included in the original recipe.  As an added bonus, the vanilla extract I made using rum earlier this year flavored the rich creamy drink.  My final product had a lot of foam on top.  To reduce this “head,” I suggest beating the egg whites and cream until thick but not to the point where they can form peaks.  Leaving time for your final product to rest and chill is also important.


Recipe (makes 3 quarts):
6 large egg whites
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup dark spiced rum
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

IMG_0201_1-Take out three medium to large bowls and an electric mixer or beater.
-In the first bowl beat egg whites until they start to thicken (do not need to be stiff).  Add 1/2 cup maple syrup, beat until thick.
-In the second bowl: Beat egg yolks and salt until the color begins to lighten.
-Combine beaten egg whites with yolks and beat until mixed and thick.
-In a third large bowl beat cream until it starts to thicken (as with the whites, thick but not stiff).
-Add 1 tbsp maple syrup,  1/2 tbsp vanilla, and 1/2 tsp nutmeg to the beaten cream.
-Add milk and rum beating continually
-Fold together all the ingredients, chill and let rest.
-Gently stir your batch before pouring into glasses.  Serve with a a sprinkle of nutmeg on top of each glass.

IMG_0203_1Tonight, I’m going to freeze a serving of our eggnog in our immersion blender’s smoothie cup.  Once it’s frozen, I’ll use the blender to make an eggnog milkshake!  I’ve also heard great things about eggnog french toast and eggnog fudge…

Get Involved!

Boiled Down: A Maple Recap

By the end of the Boil Down weekend, I was barely able to speak in complete sentences.  I managed to take the following notes, which still sum up our season’s success quite well:

Friday: Boiled from 7:30am-10:30pm, had 260 students, and about 60 adult visitors over the course of the day.  Cold weather!
Saturday: Boiled from 8:30am-9:30pm, had about 500 visitors despite rainy weather.  Waffles and hot drinks were a hit.  Tons of families dressed in great raincoats and boots and colorful umbrellas.  Finished off Friday’s syrup on a burner near the evaporator.
Sunday: Finished off and canned from 9am-4pm, finished off Saturday’s syrup, canned Friday’s and Saturday’s batches.  Yield: 3 gallons.

Since photos, it is said, say more than a 1000 words, here are a few from the weekend:

Third snow of the year? On the first day of the Maple Boil Down in March? The first field trip group gathers at the Growing Center.
"Does anyone know what this tool is called?" "A Therminator!" "Well, that's close..." Learning about temperature, evaporation, and fire in a city park...with MAPLE SAP!

…and then the camera went away for our rainy Saturday morning entertaining…

The sun breaks through the evaporating steam to keep the afternoon and evening enjoyable for those tending the fire
Well, maybe it was grilling food AND the sun that kept us going!
Finishing off: The final day of our marathon from the comfort of home.
Get Involved!

You’re invited: Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival

Join Groundwork Somerville on March 3rd at the Somerville Community Growing Center for the annual Somerville Maple Syrup Project Boil Down!   Community members of all ages are invited to 22 Vinal Avenue between 10am and 2pm to watch and learn as sap from local sugar maple trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  Attendees can expect to enjoy syrup-tasting, children’s music by the Animal Farm, kids’ activities, demonstrations, and much more! Waffles, syrup, hot drinks and Somerville Maple Syrup Project T-shirts will be on sale.

At 11am and 12noon, Animal Farm will be entertaining Boil Down Festival guests!   Animal Farm is a Boston-based trio of musicians and educators whose lively performances entertain and engage children ages 3 to 103! Each thirty minute show will be a colorful blend of original music, storytelling, hilarious antics and games.

Hope to see you there!

Get Involved!

The Boil Down Approaches

Today while sitting at my desk, I took a moment to mentally step back from the hourly coordination craziness that happens during the syruping season.  Assessing the overall progress of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project this year made me much more positive after a morning of creative crisis management.

Groundwork Interns and Staff Help Tap

Sap collection is going at full throttle despite strange winter conditions.  We filled locally available freezer storage space and are now filling up the walk-in refrigerator at the Winter Hill School.  We have volunteers committed to collecting the accumulated sap each day of the week and an intern working to manage this piece of the project.

Students act out the layers of a tree trunk

Education sessions are in their final week in 20 classrooms across the city.  They’re powered by 19 volunteer educators and a second intern, and they’ve have gone on despite an onslaught of recent sickness.  Our Maple Education intern has run two of four “Maple-y” children’s workshops at the Somerville Public Library, which are free and open to 5-9 year olds.

All permits, an added urban complication to sugar making (must have Public Event, Fire, and Temporary Food Service Permits), are in place for the Boil Down Festival.  A third intern is working on planning this time and energy intensive event and creating a manual so the project can be more easily coordinated in future years!

Want to be part of the collective energy, learning opportunities, and fun?  Here’s how you can get involved or help out:
– Families, attend the  Maple-y Workshops at the Library!
– Volunteer to help make the Boil Down Festival a success – volunteers needed March 2nd, 3rd, and the week of March 5th. Email
– Sponsor the Boil Down Festival – last year Groundwork Somerville drew over 700 people to the Growing Center for this event; do you want them to know about your business or come to your store or restaurant after the event? Email
– Print and post the Boil Down Festival Flier in your neighborhood, office, or school
– RSVP and invite your friends to the Boil Down Festival on facebook

Hope to see you on March 3rd!

Get Involved!

Maple Tapping Time

Supporters or the Somerville Maple Syrup will be tapping sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Thursday January 26th at 3pm.  Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to dress appropriately to be outside for an hour.

The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Friends of the Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.  In late January, maple trees in Somerville are tapped and the collected sap is stored for a 2-day public boil-down event in March at the Community Growing Center.  Sap starts flowing when temperatures drop below freezing at night, and rise above freezing during the day.

In addition to daily sap collection, Groundwork Somerville staff and community volunteers teach a 4- week arts and science curriculum to 2nd graders in all of Somerville’s public schools and at the Somerville Public Library.  High school students working in the metal shop provide annual maintenance on the wood stove and evaporator pan they made in 2005.  The syrup produced is given as thank you gifts to key partners, and/or sold in small maple leaf jars at the Groundwork Somerville booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. To learn more about the project, visit and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.

Get Involved!

Volunteer Opportunities: Maple Syrup Season

I’m busy gearing up for the final celebration of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project: The Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival.  I hope everyone in the area will be able to join us at the Somerville Community Growing Center (22 Vinal Ave.) on Saturday March 5th any time between 10am and 2pm to celebrate the finale of the 2011 syruping season.  Attendess of all ages are invited to come to this free event to watch and learn as sap from local trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  If you come, you’ll have the chance to taste syrup, join in the singing of sappy songs, participate in kids’ activities and demonstrations, and more! Waffles, syrup, and T-shirts will be on sale to support the Somerville Maple Syrup Project.

Volunteers at the 2010 Maple Boil Down
Volunteers at the 2010 Maple Boil Down

The Maple Syrup Project is run on an extremely tight budget but is hugely successful thanks to the amazing support of many partners.  Some folks give time, some give money, and many businesses provide materials and services needed to make the entire project run smoothly.  Check out the list below to see if there’s anything you can do to help out.  Even joining the crowd and adding excitement and energy the day of the boil down is appreciated!

Maple-y Workshops: are better than ever! If you know young families with kids between 6-9 years old, help spread the word!  We’re hoping to boost attendance for the last workshop and build up momentum as we near the day of the Boil Down

Boil Down Preparation Work Day: February 26th, 10am-2pm, Join volunteers at the Somerville Community Growing Center and help to prepare the space for the Maple SyrupBoil Down Festival the following weekend.  This is a great opportunity to be active and outside in the early spring and volunteer in the community!  Bring work gloves if you have them. Tasks will likely include shoveling, moving the boiler, stacking wood, creating activity stations, and cleaning up some storm damage.

Activity station volunteers needed Friday March 4th from 8:30-noon or 11am-2:30.  This first day of the Maple Boil Down is devoted to field trips for second grade participants in the education component of the project.  Great for folks who like working with young elementary students and being outside.

Musicians needed for at least hour long blocks Friday March 4th from 8:30-2:30 and Saturday March 5th from 10-2.  If you’re avaliable during any of these times and would like to lead simple sappy songs with attendees of the Boil Down, we’d love your help!

Print the flier and spread the word


RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook: and “like” Groundwork Somerville while you’re there!


Bucket Washers needed AFTER the Boil Down: Volunteer to come to our office for hour long blocks the week after the boil down to wash a round of buckets and leave things in good shape for next year!

Hope to see you soon! If you’d like to help out, email or call 617-628-9988.  Thanks!

Get Involved!

It’s time to tap for sap: Join us!

Join me as I show folks how to tap a tree on Sunday.  We will be tapping the sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Sunday February 6that noon.

Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to wear tall snow boots, gators, or snow pants and dress to be outside for an hour.  We’re still looking for musicians to help us sing sappy songs, feel free to contact me if you’d like to help out!  Here’s the event flier: MSP Tapping Event 2010

-- Joanie Tobin/Tufts University Photo
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Urban Maple Syrup

By the end of January, I begin to think jealously of other “Gardens Coordinators” or Farm Managers who are recharging in their season of rest.  Despite my title, my job is ramping up in preparation for the Somerville Maple Syrup Project.  January through March becomes almost as hectic and challenging as mid summer in the middle of a drought!  Educators must be trained and materials must be prepared so teams of these volunteers can enrich second grade classrooms across the city with multidisciplinary weekly activities.  Sap collecting buckets, spiles, and tools must be gathered and cleaned.  A sap collection schedule, also dependent on a handful of weekly volunteers, must be arranged and clear sap collection instructions must be documented.  And of course, the many partnerships – with Tufts, Somerville Food Services, back-yard tree owners, the Growing Center, teachers, principals, and companies donating to the project – must be re-kindled and confirmed.  Sometimes it feels like a big headache.

BUT, the work pays off.  The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is remarkable in its ability to reach so many different communities and groups across the city while producing a sweet and delicious local food.  We train and rely on over twenty amazing volunteers who commit weekly and together energize and power the project.  Volunteers range from undergraduate students to stay-at-home moms and from Groundwork Somerville interns to previous maple program coordinators.  High School Technology Education students help clean and maintain the boiler that they made in 2006.  Second graders at every elementary school in the Somerville Public School system get to meet cool new guest teachers and learn about their urban environment in a fun and unique way.  Passers by the intersection of Boston Ave. and College Ave. might peer curiously at the buckets hanging from trees on the sloping hill above them.  Upon closer inspection, they might learn about the project by reading the signs attached to each bucket.  Families whose children are not in participating classrooms can go to the library each Saturday at 11am in February to participate in a series of maple-y workshops.

All this energy comes together at the maple syrup Boil Down Festival, which is happening this year on the weekend of March 5th at the Somerville Community Growing Center.  Folks from across greater Boston come to this fun festival perfect for families, local foodies, tree-lovers, musicians, neighbors sick of being cooped up inside, and lovers of maple syrup.  Now who doesn’t belong in at least one of those categories?  In the densely settled city of Somerville, you can join the crowd to see local sap boiling away, turning into maple syrup as steam floats away into the March air.  Smells of waffles and syrup waft into your nose and syrupy songs energize the crowd.  If this sounds like a good time, join us as we embark on the 11th year of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project!