It's Sugarin' Season!

Posted on March 6, 2018 by Leslie Ann Daniels

Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, shared this wonderful article on her thoughts regarding the tapping of maple trees. I hope you enjoy reading her wit and wisdom on the subject of the “Sugarin’ Season”!
It is hard to imagine on a subzero day, but trees will soon be ‘waking up’ as their life-giving sap starts to flow from the roots, where it was stored in the shortening days of autumn, to the leaf buds awaiting to unfurl. One tree in particular in the Mid-West and North Eastern United States and Canada provides more than beautiful scenery.
The Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, is tapped this time of year so humans can harvest its sap; the liquid will ultimately be boiled into maple syrup or maple sugar. The Sugar Maple is tapped because its sap has the highest sugar content relative to other tree species (2%-3%). North America is the primary producer of maple syrup.  The weather is ideal for this sap flow; the nights are below freezing so sap stops flowing, and the spring days are warm and often sunny, which encourages sap flow. A weather pattern such as this prevents the tree from turning sugars to starch. Once the nights are above freezing, and the days warm into the 50s, the sap will turn and is no longer ideal for making high quality maple syrup.

1-sugar shack
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

The modern maple sugaring industry has made sugaring an efficient and scientifically driven business. However, many of the tools used now still have distant roots in their ancestry. The Native Americans were the first people to make maple syrup. There are many stories of how this wonderful tradition was discovered. One story tells of how a warrior sunk his tomahawk into a tree trunk and water flowed out; his wife then boiled meat in the water and it made syrup. Another legend tells of a Native American finding a sweet icicle formed from the liquid of a broken maple branch.
Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

Native Americans’ methods of making syrup were rather ingenious. Some tribes collected the sap in birch bark baskets or hollowed out logs. They allowed the liquid to freeze overnight, then they removed the layer of ice as the sugar did not freeze. Several nights of freezing and removing the ice left them with a much sweeter liquid as the sugar content became higher. Another method, which may have been paired with the ice removal, involved adding hot rocks to the sap; this would cause the sap to boil and the water to evaporate. The sugar again became concentrated and the liquid thicker.
1-home sugarin' grandpa
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

Today, no matter a person’s level of technology, the methods of making maple syrup remain essentially unchanged. If you live in a part of the world where the weather allows for maple sugaring, you can make your own syrup with just a few buckets to collect sap in. If you do not live in a maple producing region, you can still include this rich lesson in your curriculum. Sugaring has so many cross curricular connections; one can explore density, history, measurement, botany, nutrition, geography, etc. The list goes on!
Whatever you choose to do with the information, enjoy sugaring season where ever you are, and the next time you put maple syrup on your pancakes, you will know a bit more about where your food came from.

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