It has been a strange winter indeed. If you can even call it a winter. Certainly the extended periods of cold and accumulation of fluffy white snow that all Vermonters take for granted have been missed this year. I’m moving on. It’s Maple Syrup Season!
The forecast calls temperatures that dip below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day. That means it’s time to tap! We are lucky to be surrounded by folks well-equipped to make delicious syrup from their sugar maple trees. I don’t feel the need to invest time and money into making my own. For the past few years, however, I’ve chosen to tap one tree at our house and use the sap for fun and delicious kitchen experiments. It’s exciting to have a fresh ingredient to use after winter months of soups, stews, and frozen and canned veggies. I encourage anyone who has a sugar maple in their yard to give it a try!
Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:
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.
I learned an incredible amount from coordinating The Somerville Maple Syrup Project, but in the end, too many of the lessons were about testing my limits and endurance. This year, however, I was thrilled to be in Vermont and be able to bring a short and sweet week of Maple Madness to my after school students.
What I learned?: Any group of kids with access to sugar maples can participate in fun sugaring activities without requiring any money or superhero feats from the adults coordinating the program. If you work with a group of young students, I strongly encourage you to build in maple programming next March! Here’s what to consider:
Materials:Taps, hooks, buckets, and covers (about 4 each); cordless drill with a 7/16″ bit, hammer, measuring tape, and several food grade 5 gallon buckets. In Vermont, many sugar makers have upgraded to smaller taps or tubing, rather than the older buckets and taps. Make friends with local sugar makers and your cafeteria director! A chat with your local maple producers association or neighbors and friends who tap trees may reward you with valuable tips and information. What random supplies do they have laying around? Cafeteria directors usually get some foods in 5 gallon buckets. They also have large stoves with hoods and broiler pans, which will come in handy in the boiling phase.
Boiling: With permission from your cafeteria staff, boil sap exposing the most surface area possible. We boiled in pans on the stove top, with the hood fan on to pull steam up and away. In 2.5 hours, we’d reduced 5 gallons to 5 cups! Our final product was very sweet and mapley. If we’d reduced it further to 2.5 cups, we’d have official maple syrup.
Tasting! and Learning Extensions: We did a group taste test of sap (I brought some to a quick boil to sanitize it), carbonated sap (made with a Soda Stream Machine), and our final boiled almost-syrup product. We then generated “description words” (or adjectives) that described the smell, taste, feel, and look of sap vs. syrup. We’ll use these words to write poems for our next After School Newsletter!
Refer to my Maple Syruping with Kids blog entry to get ideas for games, activities, and curriculum connections. In the end, we had way more sap than we could drink or boil, leaving plenty to play with. Check out different experimental recipes from my Cooking with Maple Sap post.
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 www.groundworksomerville.org and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.
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