By TTF Intern, Emilie Wetzel
Wow! Close to 100 people came to our maple-sugaring event in Tacony Creek Park! On March 7, Environmental Educator Judith Gratz and a TTF team of staff and volunteers led a tour showcasing the history and basics of maple sugaring. At the end of the day, everyone enjoyed waffles topped with a taste of real maple syrup!
I led folks of all ages from station to station to learn about maple sugaring. I learned that maple sugaring has been going on for centuries! The earliest written records of maple sugaring are from the early explorers of our continent. In the mid-1500’s they witnessed Native Americans making maple syrup. They would tap a hole in the maple trees, collect the sap (a mixture of water and sugar) in a hollowed out shallow log, and drop hot rocks into the sap in order to boil it down into syrup.
But…where does the sugar come from??
Green plants are unique because they are the only organisms that can produce their own food. Through a process called photosynthesis, their leaves use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to make sugar. At the end of summer and the early fall, trees transport sugar out of their leaves and down into the roots where it is stored throughout the winter.
Conditions for Producing Syrup
Although other places in the world have sugar maples, the northeastern part of North America is the only place with the proper conditions to produce maple syrup.
In order for the sweet sap to start traveling up maple trees, we need weeks of weather where night-time temperatures drop below freezing and day-time temperatures rise above freezing. This cycling of temperatures typically happens in mid-February to mid-March, lasting for 4 to 6 weeks. Despite the cold temperatures, the sap does not freeze within the cells of the maple trees because of the carbon dioxide within these cells. This gas acts as a buffer, protecting the cells from bursting, and allowing the sap to run up the tree to provide energy for its growing buds.
After the 6 weeks of sugary sap flow, the sap of the maple changes and can no longer be used for maple syrup. If you tried to boil down the sap after this time period, it would produce very unpleasant tasting syrup.
Making the Syrup
In order to make maple syrup, you need to drill a hole in the trunk of a Sugar Maple tree and insert a spile into the hole to collect the sap.
While other maple trees and even birch trees can technically be used to make syrup, Sugar Maples are the best trees to use to make maple syrup.
That’s because Sugar Maples have the highest percentage of sugar in their sap, producing the clearest syrup. Nowadays, huge networks of tubing instead of buckets are used to collect the sap. These tubes link to larger tubes that transport the sap down to the “sugar shack,” a building where sap is boiled down into syrup in a large evaporator.
The sap from Sugar Maple trees typically contains between 2% to 4% sugar (96%-98% water). In order to become syrup, much of this water needs to be “boiled off” or evaporated, because syrup is composed of 65% sugar and 35% water. Therefore, it takes dozens of gallons of sap in order to produce one gallon of syrup.
This amazing event would not have been possible without our sweet volunteers: Alyssa Ard, Carolyn Hirsh, Nick Hoffman, Robin Irizarry, Seth Jones, Chris Lyons, Derick Scudder, Florida Yunker, and Emilie Wetzel.
And to Whole Foods Jenkintown: thank you for the delicious waffles and maple syrup!
We have lots of programs planned for your Tacony Creek Park!
Visit Upcoming Events. Or contact Doryan at 215-744-853/ with your suggestions.