Feb 23, 2014

Darke County Parks helping hobbyists learn to make syrup

BY RYAN BERRY
MANAGING EDITOR
GREENVILLE – While Vermont, Maine and New York are widely recognized for leading the country in maple syrup production, one might be surprised to learn Ohio isn’t too far behind. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only these three states and Wisconsin out produce Ohio.

Darke County Parks celebrates maple syrup this time of year with a couple of programs, including the annual Maple Sugarin’ event at the Nature Education Center at Shawnee Prairie. To help the prospective maple syrup hobbyist prepare, Roger Van Frank, director of Darke County Parks, presented the Backyard Sugarin’ program on Feb. 15. Van Frank was joined by Wayne Nichols, park district volunteer, to explain the process for gathering sap and making maple syrup.

Nichols got his start making maple syrup when he came to the same program eight years ago. Shortly thereafter he began volunteering with the parks.

According to Van Frank and Nichols, it takes cold nights and warm days to get sap flowing in maple trees. While most maple trees can be used the Sugar Maple produces the highest sugar content, which ultimately means more syrup with less sap. Approximately 40 gallons of sap needs to be collected to produce one gallon of syrup. If the sugar content is lower more sap would be needed to produce a gallon. One tree can produce approximately 10 gallons of sap.

The best characteristic a maple syrup producer can have is patience. Nichols pointed out it takes at least 20 hours to reduce 80 gallons of sap.

If you are thinking of reducing sap on the kitchen stove, Van Frank pointed out that may not be a good idea. He said he did that once and the amount of steam produced from boiling sap took the wallpaper off of his walls. Nichols agreed, “Always do it outside.” In addition to problems with steam he said it tends to make things sticky.

While Van Frank and the park district use a sugar hydrometer to determine when the syrup is ready, Nichols uses a different technique. When the sap goes from a rolling boil to small bubbles the sap is almost syrup. The small bubbles will begin in the middle and work their way to the edge of the pan. When they’ve reached the edge of the pan your syrup is ready.

Nichols and Van Frank offered several other suggestions for the would-be syrup makers. Don’t use copper or aluminum pans because they give the syrup an odd flavor. Always use steel or stainless steel. And, make sure your fire is out if you are done for the night. Even a few small embers can keep the fire going and eventually scorch your syrup.

Persons wanting to learn more about maple syrup production will have the opportunity to watch and learn as the Park District prepares a batch of maple syrup on March 1 during the Maple Sugarin’ event. The Evaporator in the Sugar Shack will be in full production reducing the sap from 100 maple trees tapped by park district volunteers.

Maple Sugarin’ will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Shawnee Prairie, 4267 St. Rt. 502 W., Greenville. They will offer guided tours through history and science to learn the process of turning sap into syrup.

The Friends of the Parks will be serving breakfast, 8 a.m. to noon, with waffles, sausage, juice, coffee and pure Ohio Maple Syrup. Breakfast will be from 8 a.m.-noon. There will also be a 50/50 raffle. Tickets are available for only $5 at the door on the day of the breakfast.

For more information about Maple Sugarin’, the Waffle Breakfast or any program offered by the Darke County Parks, call the Nature Center, 548-0165 or visit www.darkecountyparks.org.

Wayne Nichols explains the process of making maple syrup over a pan filled with sap. (Ryan Berry photo)

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