RNC Maple Sugaring Program Sweetens Winter Palates
Thursday, 22 March 2012 12:53
By Bill Lawyer
The warm winter weather took its toll on maple sugaring operations in the Northeast, but it didn’t dampen local enthusiasm in the Rye Nature Center program.
In a normal year, the sap in the Center’s maple trees starts flowing up from the roots on warm days, and back down to the roots on cold nights. But because of the unusually mild weather (the average temperature for both December and January was 5 degrees above normal), the sap actually began to flow in January. By late last month, what little sap was flowing had lost its sweet taste.
The last weekend in February, naturalist educator Henry Myers led a group of three families on a tour of the trees that had already been tapped. They stopped at the Sugar Shack to see how sap is boiled down into syrup. It takes 40-45 parts of sap to make one-part syrup. Mr. Myers pointed out you have to be careful when evaporating the water from the sap that you don’t burn the remaining sweet syrup.
Rye’s sugaring operation is solely for demonstration and education purposes – they don’t bottle and sell syrup. On the day of the program, participants had the opportunity to taste Grade A Dark Amber syrup from last year’s sugaring operations in Vermont.
Naturalist Myers, who has a degree in parks, recreation, and tourism from the University of West Virginia, is working part-time at the Center while pursuing a degree in biology from SUNY Purchase. Before coming to Rye, he worked for several years at the Madden Outdoor Education Center in Putnam County.
Mr. Myers said that he had spoken recently with the man who runs a commercial sugaring operation at Madden and was told this was the “worst year for maple sugaring ever.”
Regardless of the problems facing the maple sugaring industry, the five boys participating in the program had a great time, learning how to drill the hole to tap the tree, and seeing how the clear, water-like sap drips into the buckets that are attached by a hook on the spile (wooden peg) which gets hammered into the hole.
Then came the grand finale. The syrup was poured on mini-waffles served to the group by naturalist educator Christy Conley. The verdict was unanimous – delicious! In fact, some of the program participants were seen licking the leftover syrup off their plates – a sure sign of satisfaction.