Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Maple syrup day

Locally our conservation park has a maple syrup day.  It was a very cold day but we bundled up and headed out to see how maple syrup is made.  What a GREAT educational experience.

This event is open to the public beginning the first weekend in Feb, but our local homeschool field trip group was able to organize a preview the week before the event.  I am thankful because I am told the public event is crazy crowded.

We met the park rangers who first gave us some safety tips and explained the parks purpose...conservation

Next we trekked a short ways to the sugar valley--where the maple trees are

Quick talk on how to identify a maple tree and why only sap from maple trees are used:)

Next we saw several examples of how a tree is tapped.  We were told a tree needs to be at least 10 inches in diameter before it can be tapped and if done properly the same tree can be used year after year for up to 100 years.  On a good year the average amount of sap gathered from a single tree is 10 gallons
The old way of gathering sap...using a bucket.  We got to look at some sap from a tree--I was surprised it was clear--this one was frozen since it has been so cold in our area.  We were told the flow of the sap depends greatly on the temp difference between night and day.  It must be freezing at night and then warmer during the day to get the best flow.  In our area during this week it was been below freezing for both day and night and so the sap is not flowing well.

A more modern way of gathering sap is to use plastic tubing and tap several  trees and all the sap pours into a larger sealed container as in the picture below.  Hard to tell in this picture but there must have been 10 or so trees being tapped in this way with blue cording making its way thru the trees making it look like a blue spider web in the area:)

Sap can go bad if the weather is too warm so it must be gathered daily and processed to get the best quality maple syrup

Next we were taken to a station that showed how the Native Americans and early english settlers may have made syrup.  one theory of how the Native Americans discovered syrup is that they used the sap as a water source in the winter months and noticed when they boiled it in their soups that it became sweet:)
The process here is called the 3 kettle process where each kettle is hotter than the next which is the process of water evaporation and turning the sap into syrup or sugar.  The indians would keep the fire going day and night for several weeks to make a much sugar/syrup as they could

a lump of sugar made from the sap.  It was easier for the settlers or Indians to carry and trade lumps of maple sugar versus syrup due to the glass bottles or containers.

Next each of the children were given a small sample of maple sugar

It was Yummy!

Next we visited the sugar shack as it was called which concentrated on the modern way of producing sugar.  Missouri does not currently have any maple syrup commerical ventures.  The years where the maple trees produce sap is very short and very inconsistent due to our weather being very unpredictable.

This is a cinderblock method for making syrup which is used for smaller operations and can still take up to 8-12 hours to produce one gallon of syrup after boiling up to 40 gallons of sap
The modern version of making maple syrup still uses the 3 kettle philosophy but it has been updated quite a bit:)

I was surprised to find out that all maple syrup has to be filtered before being put in jars..this can be done two ways, one using filter bags
Or you can leave it in a jar and the sediment sinks to the bottom -- The light brown stuff at the bottom of the jar is what you don't want in your Maple syrup

the sediment is called Niter and it is bad for you

Next they talked about the various types of maple syrup and I was surprised to find out the lighter the color of syrup the less intense maple flavoring which is also the most expensive.  The darker the color the more intense the maple flavoring and it is rejected and sent to companies to use in cookies, candy and other foods

The last part for explaining to the kids how to make maple syrup candy just like Laura Ingalls in little house on the pairie

They had a snow trough and poured on some maple syrup that had been cooked and reached the correct temp 

Kids thought it was great!  and want to try this at home

Lastly the kids got to try some syrup made right here in MO and it had a caramel/maple syrup taste.  

IN the bottle its color looks darker but it was a medium color
IT was a great learning day out in the cold MO weather.  An interesting question came up during the question period "what makes maple syrup organic"  The answer was that there is no difference, companies will pay a lot of money to simply put the organic label on their foods and charge more.  According to the park ranger if the product says 100% pure Maple syrup then it is already organic but  it is always wise to check the bottle label.


  1. So, why don't they gather syrup from any other trees? In The Sun Egg, the elf/gnome taps birch trees, but his being a different species than human might explain why he is able to do that. I love maple sugar! I'm not a fan of real maple syrup, though maybe I have never had the good stuff. All of the real maple syrup that I have had was pretty dark, though it was supposedly the right grade?????

  2. What a great trip! Reminds me of Little House In The Big Woods :-)

  3. We love Maple syrup!!! We have tried maple sugar candy a lot and have never had success. Please share if you do :)