From the Archives: Sweet Dreams of Sugar Season
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of FOW’s newsletter. Thankfully maple sugar is timeless!
By Christina Moresi, M.Ed.
At the Tree House, winter is a time of preparation for spring. We spend our days cleaning, organizing, planning, creating, greeting adventurous winter visitors, teaching, and dreaming of our sweet Maple Sugar Season.
Sugar season begins as the winter is coming to an end. The nights are still freezing cold, but the days begin to warm. In Philadelphia, this is around late February into early March.
During sugar season we take visiting schools and groups out to our sugar maple trees throughout the Andorra Natural Area and teach them how to choose the best tree, drill and tap the trunk with a spile, collect the sap in a bucket, and boil the sap over the fire until it becomes sweet, sticky syrup.
Children are always surprised to see that the sap comes out of the tree looking more like water than syrup. The process of boiling the sap takes one or more days depending on the amount of sap in the evaporator. We boil until enough of the water content has evaporated, and the sap, now syrup, has reached 219° F, and is thick, with an amber coloring.
Before we indulge in pancakes and real maple syrup, we give the children a taste test to see if they can tell the difference between real maple syrup and pancake syrup. The children often think the corn syrup is the real maple syrup, which does have a strong maple flavor. Adults are usually surprised to learn there is no maple syrup in pancake syrups. Despite the long list of ingredients, the word “maple” isn’t even on the bottle. Although the children’s lessons aren’t long enough for them to witness the entire process of sap turning into syrup, sampling syrup we made the previous year on pancakes tastes just as sweet.
Often when I think about sugar season, I think about the children bundled-up and hiking through the forest. They are happy to be out of school, and I am happy they are outside. I also think of our annual Maple Sugar Day on Forbidden Drive. A full day of tapping trees, tasting syrups, sipping hot sap, snacking on pancakes, and sampling candy!