Why Lemony?
(the “About Me” page)

February 24, 2008

the origin of the perfect pancake companion

(Georgia and Maya getting in a little bird watching before the tour started)

Well, we finally made it out to the sugar maple grove (actually called a 'sugar bush') in time to see the sap flowing and to learn everything you can imagine about maple syrup. It was a little bit like a boring class fieldtrip (and Maya and I had to play hooky at the end and go eat chips in the car) but I did learn a lot and Georgia was totally engrossed.

Here are the things I thought were interesting:

Provenance: They claimed that maple syrup is totally North American and that no other continent produces it. I wonder if that's true.

History: In protest to slavery, maple syrup was used instead of cane sugar (produced with slave labor). I think that gives maple syrup a certain awesomeness even beyond the obvious.

Origin: Native Americans discovered/invented it (of course) and kindly taught the skill to the Europeans that encroached on their lives.

How to make maple syrup: The making of maple syrup has changed very little since it's invention. You just boil the sap to evaporate the water out of it. Here's what the Native Americans used to boil their sap back in the day: a wooden trough with hot rocks stuck in straight from the fire. Makes a great hissing, roiling sound, a big cloud of steam, and a smell like caramel corn cooking. Some nasty ashes in there though.

(Our guide had just told us it was time to move on to the next station. Before this moment, everyone had their heads in the steam, but there was so much of it that you couldn't see the trough.)

Iron pots eventually replaced the troughs and then this evaporator was invented maybe in the late 1800s and the design hasn't changed much even today.

Here's one in the 'sugar shack' where we heard about hydrometers, warming tanks, etc. and tasted sap (not very sweet at all, vaguely plant-y).


How to get sap from a maple tree: Maya and I ran away for this part, but apparently you just walk up to any unsuspecting sugar maple tree, drill a hole in it, shove a spile in it (that's the little spigot thing), and hang up a bucket under your spile. That's it. Here's a volunteer hammering in a spile:


And here's Maya tasting the sap that came dripping out:


The best part: For the first time in my life I have a reason to not want spring to come. See, there's only a small window of time in which maple tree sap can be collected and that window closes as soon as it gets warm enough for the buds to swell on the branches. Last year in Illinois the time between when it was warm enough for the sap to flow and when the buds on the maple trees swelled up and got ready to leaf out was only two weeks! With that little time for collecting, Funk's Grove was out of syrup by late summer. (But what can you expect? They only tap 7000 trees!) Usually here it's more like three weeks, and ideally four. In colder places the season's longer. Only two weeks to collect that 40 gallons it takes to make each gallon of amber goodness. Come on mushy 40 degree weather! Let's make it last! I want my syrup.

Posted by Bahiyyih at February 24, 2008 11:01 PM

Excellent! This makes me feel justified in only being able to handle maple syrup instead of cane sugar. Thanks for all the info! I LOVE maple syrup! Thank you yet again, Native Americans.

Posted by: Layli at February 25, 2008 03:32 PM

Thanks Lay! I thought of you a lot when we were there and how you seem to fit right into the local food scene up here.

Posted by: bahiyyih at February 25, 2008 05:41 PM

that is so cool i want to do that.i miss you all.lovelucy.

Posted by: Layli at March 2, 2008 03:24 PM