Your family may only use Mrs. Butterworth’s on their pancakes, but do they know where the real stuff comes from? Maple syrup events at nature centers and park districts in the area throughout March and April let kids see firsthand how sap gets from tree to syrup.
Most events will explain the three main steps in making maple syrup—tapping trees, collecting the sap and boiling it down to make syrup. At the Maple Syrup Harvest through the Park District of Highland Park, kids get to watch and participate in tree tapping.
"We use buckets with lids and a spile and a hand drill to have a little more control so we’re not going too far," explains Liza Fischel, a naturalist at the Heller Nature Center. "You want to go to xylem layer, which is the layer that brings the sap from the roots to the layers."
From there a spile (a small, hollow tube) is hammered into the tree and the sap flows through the spile into a bucket hanging below. According to Fischel, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and most trees only yield two or three gallons of sap per day during harvesting season.
Although the Heller Nature Center doesn’t have enough sugar maples (used because their sap contains more sugar than other trees) to be able to demonstrate the boiling process, Kline Creek Farm includes this in its event.
"The main part is done in a big caldron, and then it’s moved into an evaporator pan—a rectangular, flat, pan that’s divided into three sections and when it boils to a certain point, they move it," says Eloise LaPalio, a staff assistant at Kline Creek.
The boiling process takes a long time since so much water is boiled out of the sap, but the end result is sweet maple syrup.
The Maple Syrup Harvest at Sunset Woods Park, 1801 Sunset Road, Highland Park, takes place March 8 from 10-11 a.m. with a $6 admission cost for adults and kids 3 and up. The maple syrup event at Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago, takes place 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. March 15 and 16 and is free. Go to www.pdhp.org or www.dupageforest.com for more information.