Maple Syrup Magic
Add a dash of star power, a puff of breath and one drop of a raincloud…
From when it first touches your lips, you know it’s something special. The sweet, amber-colored elixir that’s good on everything from pancakes to ice cream or just straight out of the bottle. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you must have never tried real maple syrup. Maple syrup is what takes breakfast from boring to amazing, all in one tip of the maple syrup jug. But where does the syrup come from? Certainly not just from the grocery store. To get to the bottom of that question, we actually have to go up. Way up. All the way to the sun.
It starts with a ray of light from the sun hitting the leaf of a sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum). The energy from the sun breaks apart a water molecule and a carbon dioxide molecule, and long story short, the end result of this process is oxygen and sugar. The oxygen is sent back into the air we breathe. The sugar is sent into the tree’s sap to be used later for the tree’s growth. In the fall, the sap is pulled down into the roots to be stored for next year’s growing season. In late winter, when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, the sap flows back up and down through the tree’s vessels. Drill a hole in the side of the tree, insert a spile and watch the sap flow into your bucket.
But that is just half the process we have to undertake for the sweet reward. The sap from a sugar maple tree is only roughly 1–4% sugar. The rest is water and a few other odds and ends. It’s tasty, but it’s not enough for a sweet tooth. So we boil it down. And then boil it down some more. And then boil some more. The sap is boiled down from 98% water to 33% water. That leaves 66% of the mixture as sugar! Now a sweet tooth can be satisfied. So how much boiling exactly is involved? Well let’s put it this way, one gallon of maple syrup requires nearly 40 gallons of sap. So unless you WANT to strip all the paint and wallpaper in your house, do not try this inside. It is best done outside on a brisk day with a warm sun and a lot of firewood.
But you don’t have to take my word for the deliciousness that is maple syrup. Try it for yourself. And go even further and see it being made first hand. Where, you ask, may I see this alchemy of sap to syrup? Join us for Maple Sugar Days at Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve on Saturday and Sunday, February 27 and 28, 2016, from noon to 5 p.m. There will be games, activities, crafts, hikes, and yes, of course, maple syrup to taste!
Paul Seevers, Naturalist, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve