Just a Big Sap: Maple Syruping Events in April

I appreciate a good hot breakfast on the weekend. Bring on the egg bake, flavorful sausage, fluffy buttermilk waffles. Pancakes are alright as long as they’re not Swedish pancakes (I apologize right now to my Swedish ancestors and relatives, but I just don’t like the texture), and especially good if they’re made with blueberries or chocolate chips. It’s not a secret that I have a sweet tooth, and when you combine hot breakfast foods with pure maple syrup, I’m a happy girl.

But until just recently, I never really thought how that syrup gets into that container. Well, maybe I thought about it a little bit back in the 80s when I was reading about the maple syrup “sugaring off” contest in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods (the first book in the Little House series), but I haven’t given it much thought since then.

This month, you can attend maple syruping events at Maplewood State Park on Saturday, April 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (7 miles east of Pelican Rapids) and on April 25 at Wild River State Park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Learn about the history of maple syruping, see how the maple trees are tapped and the sap is collected and boiled, and try a sample. Pretend you’re a pioneer for a day! Show up in a horse and buggy, wear a bonnet, and call everyone “Ma” and “Pa.”  (Or don’t, it’s totally up to you.)

But who decided it was a good idea to tap the maple trees and boil the sap down? According to the Maple Museum, “An old Iroquois legend describes the accidental discovery of the sugarmaking process. A hunter returned to his dwelling and found an enticing sweetness in the air around the kettle in which his mate was boiling meat. The fluid in the kettle, he learned, was sap and had been collected beneath a broken maple limb.”

Whether this is true or a tall tale, I know one thing: Whoever discovered this delicious natural sweetener was a genius. My great uncle Paul even took part in this agricultural tradition, harvesting maple syrup on his property in the tiny, unincorporated town of Connorsville, Wis. One year, my dad and little brother Nick helped out (I was away at college). My dad told me the sap ran fast through thin plastic tubes, like water from a tap, and once it was collected, it was a tedious process boiling the sap to pure maple syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, since 98 percent of sap is water, and if you don’t watch it carefully—making sure the fire doesn’t get too hot or the sap levels get too low— you risk losing a whole batch (burnt syrup doesn’t taste so good). But when it’s boiled just right, the taste is well worth the wait.

It’s the middle of the afternoon and all this syrup talk has me craving a sugar rush. Looks like we may be having breakfast for dinner tonight … extra syrup.