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.