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home : sports / outdoors : sports/outdoors Monday, March 25, 2019

3/21/2017 4:41:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Maple Syruping In Your Backyard

By Deborah Locke

Kao Thao, a naturalist at Fort Snelling State Park, teaches visitors how to make syrup from maple trees. Here he is drilling a tree.
Talk with any elder and she or he will remember the way cane syrup was made in Laos, Vietnam or China. The sap from sugar cane was boiled down into syrup and then sugar crystals, or the cane itself was eaten as a sweet treat.

A similar sugar-producing process takes place in North America, except here, maple trees get involved.

That's because maple syrup, that gooey liquid poured over breakfast pancakes, comes from maple trees. American Indians in Minnesota long ago perfected the process of getting sap from trees and turning it into a tasty treat. Ever since, people have tapped into trees each spring to extract sap that gets boiled down into syrup.

For a free demonstration of how it's done, attend a "Maple Syruping In Your Backyard" workshop held on Saturdays and Sundays at Fort Snelling State Park. Check the calendar at www.mndnr.gov, where you'll find maple syruping events at other nearby parks such as Wild River, Whitewater and Minneopa.

Learn how to do this, and you'll never look at the trees in your own backyard in quite the same way.

"The comments we hear are that people never knew they could do this with their own trees!" says Kao Thao, a Minnesota DNR naturalist at Fort Snelling State Park. "They never knew it was so easy."

Some families enjoy making syrup so much that they return to the workshop year after year, bringing along samples of their own current batch of maple syrup for Kao to taste.

"They bring in bottles," he said. "When they see tapping the first time, they ask about the difference between saps like maple and oak sap, and they notice that the sap smells sweet."

Sap needs to be harvested in spring. Sap travels up the trunk during the warmth of the day, then returns down the trunk during the colder night hours. On American Indian reservation land each spring, you'll see hundreds of containers attached to maple trees throughout northern Minnesota. Today the Ojibwe gather at what is called a "sugar bush" - a forest with plentiful maple trees for tapping. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup. That means long hours tending a fire as the sap boils. Ojibwe syrup makers will tell you that the time spent watching the sap boil acts as a starting point for storytelling. Many a tall tale has been shared as the sun lowers in a night sky and the burning wood produces the only light for miles.

So consider a visit to a state park this spring. No registration is required, and the only cost is the $5 vehicle day permit into the park.

To learn about all of the maple syrup workshops and other spring programs offered through the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails division, go to mndnr.gov/parkfinder. To get more information about the Fort Snelling State Park maple syrup workshop, call 612-279-3550.

St. Paul, MN



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