There's a specific time of year when winter begins to thaw, but spring has not yet awakened, when something almost magical happens in trees.The nights are still freezing, but the mercury begins to creep above thirty-two during the day. These are the days when you aren't really sure which jacket to take, though you definitely still need one. This exact time of year is the optimal time to tap maple trees for sap to make maple syrup!
B's class had a field trip this past week to the North Park Village Nature Center and the lovely Ms. Liza and Ms. Ashley from their staff led us on an adventure through the woods to try our hand at tapping a tree for sap.
First, we learned some of the science behind maple syrup. All trees produce sap that can be boiled down to make syrup, but the sap from maple trees, and specifically sugar maples, produces the best taste. The trees must be at least forty years old which allows them time to grow to at least fifteen inches in diameter before they can be tapped, although the optimal age seems to be sixty to eighty years old.
After the leaves have fallen off of the trees in the fall, they have no need for the starch that they have produced, so it is stored up in their roots where it converts to sugar. Then, as the days grow longer and increased sunlight begins to warm their trunks, all of this stored up sugar rises up the tree and into its branches, ready to feed the sprouting buds and growing leaves that will soon dress them.
Tap the trees too soon and the sap won't flow. Wait too long and it won't taste good because all of the sugar will be feeding the leaves. Harvesting maple sap is a time-honored tradition that traces its origins far back to the history of the indigenous peoples on this land.
Then we inserted a metal spile into the button.
Finally, we collected the sap as it dripped from the tree.
Maple syrup is such a delicious gift from nature. I always keep it in the house and we enjoy it on pancakes, waffles, or a piece of breakfast sausage that accidentally finds its way into the pool on the plate, yum... Today we enjoyed some on popcorn, which was a first for me, but very tasty!
If you'd like to learn more about maple syrup or try your hand at tapping a tree here in Chicago, you can check out the Syrup Festival at the Nature Center on March 19th!
BONUS BYTES FROM B!
Hi! It's me, B! My favorite part of the field trip was when we got to drill the tree open. There are more than one hundred ways to use maple syrup. What is your favorite? Like us and reply!
See you next time!