To the editor:
This letter is primarily about the wonderful Sugar Maple tree (Acer saccharum) that grows well in Indiana. The tree itself is a good shade tree and, given the room, will usually grow to a nice tall sturdy tree with an umbrella-shaped canopy.
When mature, the trunk will yield a sweet sap that can be converted into wonderful maple syrup. We already have several of the trees planted in the Franklin urban forest. It is located on the south end of Dunn Street (west side). It will be populated with Sugar Maple trees exclusively.
We hope in the future that will provide an opportunity for some group of students or others to experience the process of making maple syrup from sap of the trees. Now days that process is very modern in the states where Maple trees are abundant, such as Vermont.
I was fortunate to have lived on a farm, in my early years, where we had a woods with several Sugar Maple trees. I helped my grandfather harvest the sap and refine it into that wonderful syrup. I will share with you, for those who may be interested, the manner in which we carried out the refining process.
It takes about 35 years for the trees to mature to the size to harvest sap. Back in the day, we did not have plastic tubing and plastic buckets, or if we did we probably couldn’t afford them. My grandpa, I called him Bapper, would start preparation in the early fall to prepare for the harvest in February or March. This effort was not easy for Bapper as he was disabled, using a crutch and cane to walk, and he was blind in one eye, both due to an accident in a limestone quarry when he was younger. I always admired him for his perseverance, as he never gave up.
We first would cut some limbs from the elderberry bushes and cut them into about 12-inch sections. We then cleaned out the core of the sticks, which were to become out spigots. When the core was open we would cut the top half of the spigot lengthwise for about 4 to 6 inches. We usually made 15 or 20 of the spigots. During the fall and winter, Bapper would take short sections of logs that were intended for firewood and hew them out with an axe to make a trough to collect the sap as it dripped from the spigots. By the way, the yield of syrup is about one part syrup for 40 parts Maple sap.
So if we wanted a gallon of syrup we needed 40 gallons of sap to refine. Come time for tapping the trees we would take our trusty brace and bit, and we would bore a hole in the tree, large enough to insert the spigot, about 2 feet from the ground. We then inserted the spigot in the tree with the open side in and facing up, place the trough under the end of he spigot and wait for the sap to start dripping. We usually checked the trees and gathered the sap into a two-gallon bucket about twice a day. The sap was then poured into a big cast iron vat hung on a tripod over a pile of wood which was then lit and kept burning until the sap had been reduced to about a quart or maybe more. Then we took it to the house where Grammy would strain the reduction and pour it into a mason jar for sealing. As I recall this was a daily job for two to three weeks. Sometimes Grammy would further reduce the sap on the kitchen stove to make maple sugar candy.
That probably is the sweetest candy you can eat, pure maple sugar. I remember we used to say it was so sweet it turned your teeth on edge. When it was happening this was a lot of fun for me and brings back memories.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had Bapper as a friend and companion in my youth. He was a wonderful kind human being and only once in my life did I hear him so much as utter a curse word. But I have some great memories of my experiences with him in the woods and pastures of our farm. Today the process of refining syrup is much more automated and efficient, but the end product is still the same, a wonderful topping for the pancakes.