In this March 24 photo, Hollow naturalist and educator Nancy Carlson, far right, describes how Native Americans boiled maple tree sap into sugar in Somers, Wis. The maple sugaring excursion — called "Maple Sugarin' Class" — consisted of tapping trees for sap, watching the boiling process of sap into syrup and tasting the final product.
SOMERS, Wis. - Recipe for a fine day in early spring: a walk in a nature preserve capped off with a cup of maple syrup over shaved ice.
This was what about 60 adults and children got to experience recently as they participated in the spring maple sap harvest at Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary and Arboretum.
The maple sugaring excursion — called "Maple Sugarin' Class" — consisted of tapping trees for sap, watching the boiling process of sap into syrup and tasting the final product, the Kenosha News reported.
Additionally, Hawthorn Hollow staff offered up Native American maple syrup lore and a make-and-take art project.
Two groups were led by T.J. LeVeque, Hawthorn Hollow staffer, and Nancy Carlson, naturalist and educator.
After an introduction to the sap-gathering program, Carlson's group hit the woods.
Standing around a giant black cauldron similar to those used by early Americans to boil sap into maple sugar, Carlson noted that Americans have been enjoying the bounty of maple trees since the pioneers were introduced to maple tree tapping by Native Americans.
She also told a Native American legend of the discovery of the edible sap of maple trees and how they boiled it into sugar. Participants were each given tastes of maple sugar.
Next stop was Mary's Sugar Shack where ecologist Lori Artiomow explained how the sap is slowly boiled into syrup over wood burning evaporating tanks.
Artiomow said it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
"In a sweeter season it might only take 33 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup," she said.
It takes two days to bottle 1 gallon on syrup, Artiomow said.
After the first trees were tapped, sap boiling began March 12, with the first bottling on March 15.
Artiomow showed how a hydrometer measures the sugar content of the boiling sap to indicate when it has turned into syrup.
After the demonstration, the group enjoyed cups of shaved ice topped with maple syrup from a local producer.
Wandering into the woods, the group was led to sugar maple trees ready for the tapping.
Carlson explained that maple sap stored in a tree's roots during winter courses through the trunk of the tree when temperatures are above 32 degrees during the day and below 32 at night.
Sap harvesting, also called maple sugaring, involves harvesting the sap as it moves from the roots up the tree to feed the new buds in spring.
March 2 was the original date for the first maple sugaring class but it was too cold, Carlson said.
"Then we worried that spring was so late that the temperatures would stay above 32 and the sap would stop running."
A recent Saturday, however, proved to be just perfect, she said.
Carlson noted that it is important to avoid tapping trees that are less than 10 inches in diameter and demonstrated with a tree-width gauge determine which trees are mature enough for sap harvesting.
She invited children and adults to sample the sap as it flowed from an already-tapped tree and guided a couple of children in drilling a new tap hole.
"It is important not to tap the same tree twice in the same place on any given tree," Carlson said.
After tapping, she guided the group in identifying maple sugar trees and showed them how to make necklaces from pieces of staghorn sumac, the same wood used by Native Americans to make sap tappers known as spiles.
Throughout the two-hour event participants asked questions of their tour guides such as what fuel is used to evaporate the sap (wood harvested from fallen trees at Hawthorn Hollow) and if trees can be over-tapped (two taps at the most per tree at any given time).
Mary Small of Racine attended the session with her two daughters and three grandsons.
"We had a neighbor who tapped trees in our neighborhood and boiled it into syrup. It took a long time," she said.
For Christa Boudreau of Kenosha and her son, Xaiden, 15, the maple sugaring demonstration was the first time they had visited Hawthorn Hollow.
"We love being outside and we love maple syrup," she said.
Xaiden said he enjoyed the demonstrations and was surprised to learn how much sap it takes to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
It was also a first time at the nature preserve for Joni Sturino and her son, Graham, 5, of Kenosha. Graham had the chance to help Carlson work the tree tap drill.
"It's very interesting, and we have lots of trees in our yard, so we will try it out," Joni said.
"It's a good program for kids," she added.
The program is fun for Hawthorn Hollow educators as well.
"We can teach (maple sugaring) at so many levels," Artiomow said. "Adults find it interesting and so do children because, come on, we're making food here!"