Did you know you can make maple syrup in your own backyard? Maple sugaring – the process of turning sap into syrup, sugar and candy – is not a phrase one typically associates with Long Island, but that is where I found a nature preserve that teaches you how to do it.
Every year at this time, Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, located in Commack, NY, holds classes to teach about the process. They cover the history of maple sugaring and take visitors out into the field to demonstrate how to do it themselves. I was able to attend the class with my family last weekend.
Native Americans used sugaring as a means to survive the final weeks of winter, when food was scarce. They would move their families into the forest and set up “sugar camps” to harvest the sap and make it into sugar and cakes.
(illustration: LM Sugarbush, LLC)
When the colonists arrived, the natives taught them their methods. The early settlers later developed their own techniques, using their own tools. One important development was the use of the spile, which is still used in backyard sugaring today.
From the 1600’s to the present day, from backyards to sugaring farms, the basic process for turning sap into sugar is the same.
Interested in setting up your own “sugar camp”? To collect sap at home, drill a hole about 4 feet above the ground, insert a spile and attach a gallon jug to collect the sap. To turn the sap into sugar, boil it outside over a wood burning fire for a few hours (do not do it in your house). Detailed instructions can be found at Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.
If you would rather not tend to a fire, it would still be a fun and educational exercise for children to tap a tree and taste the fresh sap, which is more like maple water than maple syrup. Or you can cut a branch and have yourself a “sapsicle”.
At the end of the class at Hoyt Farm, everyone in attendance was treated to a taste of the syrup and sugar candy that they make at the farm and it was heavenly! It’s definitely worth giving it a try at home, if it suits you.