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Thứ Bảy, 22 tháng 2, 2014

Maple-syrup class offers sweet, sticky schooling - Lynchburg News and Advance

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According to legend, a Plains Native American discovered maple syrup accidentally many years ago after all of the water she gathered from the river leaked out and she needed an alternative water source to cook her husband’s meat.

She noticed the tree his axe was in was “crying,” and she collected the clear liquid to cook. Her husband was impressed by the sweetness and tenderness of the meat, leading to the beginnings of maple sugar and syrup.

While Kathie Driscoll, a Lynchburg naturalist, questions the legend’s validity, the tradition of gathering and making your own maple syrup is still alive today and was the focus of Saturday’s Lynchburg Parks and Recreation class.

About 25 people came out to the maple sugaring class, led by Naturalist Laura Berrier. During the two-hour workshop, people were able to visit different stations around Riverside Park to learn about the tapping process, how to boil the sap down into syrup and the history of it, as well as eat pancakes with pure maple syrup.

“It was really fun,” said Elizabeth Hurt, 22, of Lynchburg. “I learned everything that I wanted to coming in.”

Hurt said she and her sister decided to take the class because their whole family wants to start making their own syrup at home.

She said she had been reading about the process a little before the class but also experienced and learned a lot of new things at the event, including tasting the sap directly from the tree and tasting samples of Lynchburg syrup.

“I was surprised it was that sweet straight from the tree,” she said. “I thought you would have to boil it down to taste that sweetness.”

Hurt said she is excited to make syrup, especially after the class.

“It seems pretty forgiving,” she said. “It doesn’t seem hard to get the sap out, it just flows, and with the crystallization process, if you boil it past the point, you still have a product.”

Once the sap is collected, it is boiled down to 217 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is boiled past that, it will crystallize into sugar and can be eaten like candy, a treat the Native Americans used to make all of the time. Up until the Civil War and the introduction of the railroads bringing cane sugar to the area, maple sugar was the predominant form of sugar, Driscoll said.

“Generally, pure maple syrup is thin and runny,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll advised people to boil the sap outside over a fire because it can make the inside of a house sticky. Cooking times differ between outside and indoor setups. It tends to take between six and seven hours indoors and between 10 and 12 hours outdoors.

During the process, the syrup changes its color from clear to amber as the water is boiled away. It takes about 10 gallons of sap to make one pint of syrup. The color starts out clear because it is 98 percent water. The color also depends on when in the season the sap is collected. The later-season sap is darker.

The sap-collecting season usually ranges from January to early March. However, since it is temperature-driven, it starts and ends a little earlier in Virginia than up north, wrapping up at the end of February.

Ideal sap days are clear days with daytime temperatures above 40 degrees and nighttime temperatures below 35 degrees, Berrier and Driscoll said.

Trees shouldn’t be tapped anymore for the season when buds start to appear, because the sap is what’s delivering the nutrients throughout the tree.

“Basically the tree is preparing for spring,” Driscoll said.

Berrier walked participants through how to identify when a tree is ready to be tapped and how to do it.

Any maple can be tapped, but the sugar maple is the best because of its high sugar content. The yellow-bellied sap sucker, a woodpecker in the area, is a helpful way to identify the sugar maples and when the sap is flowing because they will create a hole in the bark for the sap to flow out. Bugs also are attracted to the sap, Berrier said.

A tree should be at least eight inches in diameter before it is tapped. Once a tree is identified as a good one, a hole is drilled into the bark about one and a half inches to two inches deep hole at bellybutton height or higher. A spile—a peg made of either made of wood or metal—is put into the hole to direct the sap out. A bucket, bag or tube is then attached to collect the sap and should be checked at least once every other day.

Berrier said there are many variations of how to collect the sap, including with empty milk jugs.

“Once you have the spile, you’re good,” she said.

People were able to make spiles to take with them so they could make their own syrup.

Alisha and Dan Norman, of Roanoke County, said they decided to come to the class because it was something they had wanted to learn about.

“It was very informative,” Alisha Norman, 32 said. “It’s definitely enough so you can go home and try it.”

They said they learned a lot about making syrup, something they had never done before.

Dan Norman, 30, said he was surprised to learn it took so much sap to make only a pint of syrup.

“We’re definitely going to need a lot of sap,” he said.

Both said they enjoyed the class.

“It was a good event,” Alisha Norman said. “It covered a lot of stuff. It definitely made me want to tap my trees.”

He added, “We’re definitely going to experiment.”

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