Well here we are, it’s the middle of March, the month when Spring arrives. A lot of people have been looking forward to these upcoming warmer days since December, looking forward to planting their garden, mowing the grass, swatting mosquitoes, and wearing sandals again. Spring, being a time of renewal, comes with longer days and gradually warmer daytime temperatures. Of course these conditions help melt our snow cover and warm the soil so life can “start over”. Start over. Think about what that means. Warmer days, the snow going away; getting out in the yard, the songbirds returning. What will you plant this year? Digging in the garden and experiencing the aroma of freshly turned soil wafting through the air; the buzz of insects reaching your ears. The sound of your neighbor’s lawn mower at 9:00 am Sunday morning. Those wonderful seasonal scents that are released as the April showers thaw the last glacial remnants on the north side of the garage. Ahh, the chance to be outside working in the yard and actually sweating! The sting of your first mosquito bite! And finally let’s not forget that wonderful aroma that arrives as people get their grills out of hibernation!
But hang on a minute! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Being a Black Powder Beagle (as I am) requires that you do things differently, that you think differently, that you act differently- check the BPB Membership guidelines! So even though I lament the end of another winter, I do look forward to March because I like pancakes. Huh? And I like to put real maple syrup on my pancakes. OK. So what do pancakes and maple syrup have to do with March?
Well quite a bit actually. You see, I (and many other like-minded people) like to spend at this time of year lots of time in the company of trees, more precisely sugar maples. Because we like maple syrup. Really. By spending time in the company of sugar maples I don’t mean we hang out in the woods and talk them into giving up maple syrup. No, although they are good listeners we don’t talk to them. Well, maybe a little.
If you didn’t know, you may have figured out by now that real maple syrup comes from sugar maple trees. Nowhere else. And Spring(March) is the time of year when maple syrup is produced. Why March? Well it’s a combination of many factors, most being related to the weather. This time of year as the Earth is warming in the northern hemisphere(where we live) the atmosphere becomes unstable causing those weather “mood swings” we experience. Warm up, cool down, warm up, cool down. Wind, snow, rain, sleet, you name we probably get it in March.
It’s these mood swings in the temperatures that give us maple syrup. The sap begins to run in the trunks of the trees under the right conditions. Typically when the daytime temperatures reach the forty degree mark and the night-time temps dip below freezing we have the right conditions to produce maple syrup.
Maple syrup doesn’t come out of the tree as syrup; it begins as tree sap that is mostly water. Getting sap from the trees is fairly simple: drill a small hole into the tree, tap a spile(spout) into the hole, and hang a bag or bucket beneath to collect the sap. When you have a sufficient quantity of sap you put it into a large container and boil it down till it’s done. Maple syrup.
While that’s a generalized description of the process- I’ve left out several important guidelines to follow; the process that was handed down to us by the Native Americans centuries ago remains unchanged. A fairly simple process.
A fairly simple but time-consuming process. Raw sap right out of the tree on the average contains only about 2% sugar, the remaining 98% contains water and a few minerals and vitamins. To get to maple syrup we need to raise the sugar content to about 66%, give or take. That means we need to remove a lot of water, by boiling it off. And it will take somewhere around 40 gallons of that raw sap to give us one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of cooking, but it’s time and energy well spent. Outdoors. It’s another of the traditions that we enjoy. A process and tradition that’s not well-known to most, but is very satisfying when the weather cooperates.
When the weather cooperates. This year our winter started a bit slow but has gained momentum the last month or so. Usually by this time our snow pack is declining. This year, it’s still growing. Yes, March brings us snow, but usually that snow is short-lived. Not this year: temperatures for the month are running 10-15 degrees cooler than average; two days ago the snow here at home measured 14 inches deep in the woods. And as I’m writing this we are about 9 hours into a blizzard warning. Go figure. Minnesota weather. The 51 taps(spiles) we have out will have to wait a bit longer.
If you are in the area and are interested in seeing the maple syrup process firsthand go to www.treehousestudiomn.com for times and days that are available. However, until it warms up enough for the sap to run, tours will not be available. Watch the weather and check back.