Maple Sugaring

by Marion L. Ritcey

As I was driving down a back road, I saw a sign of spring. The maple trees had buckets on them. The Audubon Center near where I live has started their maple sugaring. That is a sure sign of warmer weather.

That also means I have to get my tour guide hat ready, since I help with a few tours through the maple sugar run. We have fun taking school groups and scout troops around. First we introduce them to a maple tree. It is a little harder to find them without their fall colors or green leaves of spring.

When I meet my group, I lead them down the trail to a tree that already has a bucket on it–a dead giveaway for the children. One way to find a maple tree is to look at the bark. Each tree has a different bark. We all have different colored hair, so why shouldn’t trees have different bark and leaves?

There are a few different kinds of maple trees, but the best sap comes from the sugar maple. You need a lot of sap to make one gallon of maple sugar. It takes 40 to 60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple sugar. More sap flows in the beginning of the season and less near the end of the season. Warm days and cold nights are the right combination for the sap to flow.

I pick one child from the group and turn them into a tree. From behind a real tree, I pull out a bucket full of sapping tools. First, a ruler to measure the tree. The tree must be at least 14 to 18 inches in diameter before one bucket can be put on. That should make the tree around 35 to 40 years old. If the tree is wider it can hold as many as four buckets. Then I pull out a manual drill. At this time the child looks at me saying, “You’re kidding right?”

I tell them that we’ll pretend, and they are okay with that. I drill a hole and then put in a tap (the tube you use to get the sap out of the tree). When the tap is in then I show how the bucket is hung. There is a hook below the tap. Then the make believe tree gets a tin hat to wear. That hat keeps the dirt and animals from getting in. If you were a deer wouldn’t you like a nice sweet drink hanging on the side of a tree? Around now the group gets its first taste of sap. Now sap is only 10 percent sugar and 90 percent water, not too sweet, but they get the idea of what is to come.

We move down the trail to a fur trader. It is his turn to tell how maple sap was discovered. He tells the group the Indians found it by accident one day. A brave threw his hatchet into a tree and the bowl underneath filled with sap. His wife used it for their stew, thinking it was water. The flavor was new to them and they figured out it was from the tree. We bid the fur trapper good day, going on our way.

Now we are in early times. We come upon a Colonial women waiting for her husband and children to bring full sap buckets so she can boil it down to make maple sugar in a hard form. This we are told is better for them to store since they don’t have refrigerators. It is also used to barter with for flour and seed. Since sugar is too costly for them to buy. They take the children out of school to help since it is a needed product for the whole family.

The next part is the fun part. We get to see how the sap is turned into maple sugar, so on we go to the sugar house. The sap then goes through a long process of evaporation till it ready to bottle. The temperature of the sap has to be high to evaporate the water. There is a lot of steam in the sugar house. The warm steam feels good after the walk in the cold afternoon.

The last stop on the tour is a picnic table where the group is given a small cup of maple sugar from the sugar house.

This is a great group and they love the taste. I invite them back to the main house for sap dogs, maple sugar popcorn and the best pancakes covered with maple syrup right from the sugar house.

This is the end of the tour. Hope you had fun. I know I did. This is my eighth year taking groups to see how maple sugaring is done New England Old World style.