Growing up, I was a huge Little House on the Prairie fangirl. Not the show, but the books. (Little secret, I still reread them every year.) One of my favorite parts in Little House in the Big Woods is the Sugar Snow, when the whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, all get together and tap the trees for the sap to make maple syrup. There is snow and dancing and frivolity, and of course, fresh maple syrup served on top of fresh fallen snow. I have actually never tried that but I am sure back then it was a delicious treat.
Our local Metropark system has maple sugaring events every year, and every year we miss them. I was bound and determined to get to one this year, and so Saturday morning, amidst snow flurries, we were over the river and through the woods to Oakwoods Metropark by the start of the program. One of our favorite interpreters was leading the event, which was cool, and when we got there, we learned we were the only people signed up for the early program. So our little family had our very own private lesson.
Just our little badger boy enjoying the day out.
We learned so much! A few quick facts that I thought were interesting:
- It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
- Maple trees have opposite branches, not alternating branches.
- You can make maple syrup from Black Walnut trees, although it will be a little more bitter.
- It actually isn't a very complicated process; in fact, it is something you can do in your own backyard if you have a maple tree.
- A grove of maple trees is called a sugarbush.
Unfortunately, maple syrup production is at risk right now due to the springlike weather we have been having. It needs to be cold at night but warm during the day for the sap to flow. The cold temps cause the sugar content to rise, and with these warmer days, the syrup may turn bitter in flavor. I don't know about you, but I much prefer real maple syrup to the manufactured versions. I can put up with a few more weeks of winter in order to have that delicious caramel taste of real maple syrup.
We also heard two very different Native American origin stories regarding maple syrup, as maple syrup was a staple of the Native American diet in this area. If you are interested, here is a link to the Ojibway legend of maple syrup.
The program was about an hour long, and although we were the only ones there, Kevin did not hurry or skip any part of the program. Billy and I both found it very informative, and inspiring actually. We dream of homesteading one day, and maple syrup collection would be a fun addition to that dream. Overall, we had a great time, and ended up staying and sitting by the fire for a bit chatting. It was a nice way to start a day.
We learned so much more than I have related here, but I encourage you to check out a program if you have one near you.
If you are in southeast Michigan, the Huron-Clinton metroparks seem to be doing a few more events. For more information on Michigan's maple syrup industry, you can check out this page.