Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Maple Syrup
Nature Bulletin No. 102   February 8, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

From sometime in February until sometime in March, when there is alternate freezing and thawing and the sap travels up and down in trees, is Maple Sugar Time. What sorghum-making from cane is to the southern states in the fall, the making of maple syrup and maple sugar is to the northern states in late winter. Vermont is the principal maple syrup state, and from over 5 million trees produces more than 2 million dollars worth of syrup annually; but many midwestern localities have groves of hard maple trees that are native or were planted by pioneers. As boys, we made syrup from soft maple and boxelders, but it usually was slightly bitter.

It takes a " sugar" maple 40 years to grow large enough to be tapped for its sap which yields from 2 to 3 pounds of sugar -- of unique flavor -- per 100 lbs. of sap. Trees commonly yield a gallon per day but, under favorable weather conditions, may yield a quart per hour. The yield at night is small. If done properly, tapping does negligible damage and many trees, now 200 or more years old, have been tapped continuously for 50 years.

Tapping consists of boring a 1/ 2 or 5/ 8 inch hole, 3 or 4 inches deep, about 3 feet above the ground. into this hole is driven a metal spout called a "spile" . Formerly this was the hollowed stem of an elderberry or a sumac. On a nail, driven above the spile, is hung a pail. The pails are emptied once or more times per day into large barrels on a horse- drawn sled.

These barrels are emptied into the hottest of several huge kettles set over a long furnace in the " sugar camp" . As the sap boils and becomes more concentrated, it is transferred from one kettle to another farther away from the main fire. A piece of bacon rind on a stick is occasionally dipped into the kettles to keep them from foaming, and they are frequently skimmed of scum.

"Sugaring off" is the emptying of the finished syrup from the last kettle, after which it is ripe for pancakes or biscuits or maple candy.

So you'll take vanilla?

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