August 8, 2008

Stick to It Making Maple Syrup Takes Time, Patience

By John Johnston Daily Herald Correspondent

On a snow-covered and sometimes slippery trail into the Tekakwitha Woods in St. Charles, a small group of people gathers around a maple tree.

Valerie Blaine, a program manager for the Kane County Forest Preserve District, bores a small hole into the tree, and the crowd - ranging from toddlers to grandparents - waits for the sap to start trickling into the metal bucket.

It was all part of Sunday's Maple Sugaring Festival, which attracted about 250 people. The free festival featured five separate stations that showed visitors how to make life a little sweeter with syrup.

To produce sap, a tree must be at least 40 years old, and it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, Marjorie Kellams explained to people at the history station. Sap also can only be collected for a short time - about five weeks when the weather is about 40 degrees in the day and below freezing at night - before it becomes too bitter.

A clear, waterlike liquid when it evacuates, the sap must be simmered for up to eight hours, according to volunteer Katrina Gentry, who worked at the cooking station.

Her daughter Abby Kennedy, 8, said the process was a lot more than she expected.

"I thought it only took one bucket (of sap) and you cook it for a little while, like maybe an hour," Kennedy said.

Festival goers also could take a sample to compare natural syrup to its store-bought cousin or buy a pint for $7.

After the stations were visited, or the hike to find and place a spire in an untapped maple had been completed, people could take what they learned home with them.

For the Yingst family, last year was the stepping stone to make their own syrup.

Nicole Yingst said her husband, Lonnie, and four children - Mark, 8; Anna, 7; Jack, 5; and Sam, 2 - took what they learned and tapped their backyard maple tree last year. Nicole said the exercise was such a hit that the family had to come back this year.

Lonnie Yingst said for all the effort, the tapping gave about a half-pint of syrup, which the children enjoyed.

The forest preserve district will host another tree tapping from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Johnson's Mound Forest Preserve in Elgin.

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