Hooray for a sunny day! Every year we mark our favorite park experiences on the calendar once the rest of our obligations are penciled in. Slowly but surely, many things get eliminated by soccer practices, family parties, colds, the desire to do absolutely nothing on our days off…and things of the like. This Sunday, our plan stayed. It was a sunny Sunday and we headed to Deep River County Park for Maple Syrup Time!
With our rubber boots still in the trunk of the car, we made our way around the big loop that is the park and the Maple Syrup experience.
I learn something new every time we enjoy the tree tapping interpretation and viewing. (AKA: Tree Talks) The gist is laid out here by Miss Dawn – the sugar stored in the trees stays frozen over the winter and when the weather warms up, the water and sugar mixture begins to melt and the feeds the production of the trees’ leaves and fruit. The rest of the gritty details revealed are determined by the curiosity of the guests. Can other trees be tapped for sap? (Yep!) How would the sap of a Walnut tree taste? (Very walnutty!) Is there an optimal position on the tree to place the tap? (Not really, but if you want it sooner than later then place it on the side of the tree that the sun hits.) My youngest in his Heelys (shoes with a wheel on the heal) rolled the parking lot. Our oldest buddy clung onto every word and stayed for the full lesson and viewing. (Something I don’t typically require as a parent when it’s for fun – they will listen when they’re ready. That was today for one kiddo!)
After examining both the quantity and clarity of the sap…and learning about why the buckets have lids (rain and scavengers!), we meandered across the bridge to enjoy our favorite view in the park.
It’s always a wonder that in only a couple of months, that same river MAY be lower and ready for “river hiking” (as it sounds, just walking up and down the river) and crawfish catching (known as “crawdads” in these parts…but when you are married to a Louisiana native – there is only one word for this small crustacean). Only a few deep breaths at Deep River are possible with the smoke of the boiling sap beckoning from just across the way.
We arrived almost in time for the extraordinarily hot sap to be poured into the the vessels pictured on the wooden bench to make maple candy or be ground and powdered into maple sugar. Most years, we are able to get a pinch of this special treat as we listen to the legends tell of the age old processes and share their wisdoms and witticisms. Today, they took us back to the Native Americans story of the full moon known as the “Sugar Moon” while also sharing that grocery store brown sugar is really just made by mixing molasses back into standard, nutrient free, highly processed cane sugar – don’t let it fool you!
It’s pretty amazing how the “same” experience can change so drastically when you are experiencing it with growing children. Or, when you remain curious like a child for as long as humanly possible. Not sure who or what I was watching more during this sweet moment, it was like life was waking up all around.
Little buddy, seen for the first time since we arrived, beckoned in by the promise of a Maple Syrup sampling inside.
The not quite as hot process of boiling the water out of the sap is explained quite well by Miss Taylor with the always friendly visualization mechanisms like colored charts and garlands of milk gallons. Did you know that for every 40 gallons of sap, once boiled down only makes 1 gallon of syrup!
The process is quite fascinating. For my purpose of helping explain it to you, I am going to rely on Shelbourne Farms , “Fresh sugar maple sap is about 2% sucrose; the rest is water. On its way to the sugarhouse, sap picks up microbes that break some of that sucrose down into two simpler sugars: fructose and glucose. (This also happens if the sap sits around in the tank for a while.)
As temperatures warm up over the course of the sugaring season, more microbes tend to show up in the sap, producing more of these simple sugars.
Here’s where it gets interesting. While the sap is being cooked in the evaporator (killing all those microbes!), “nonenzymatic browning reactions” occur that affect syrup color and flavor. It turns out that fructose and glucose get involved in these reactions more than the sucrose, which is more stable.” If you are lost don’t worry, while the process seems quite simple – the details of this wonder of nature are still boggling the scientists that have been studying this magic for years.
Most people after sampling some of the delicious tree nectar would be inclined to step up to the food truck to try some of their delicious maple inspired treats. Or, line up at the gift shop for some maple fudge and a bag of maple candies. But when the day is lovely and the company is good – sometimes just staring at the trees is equally as rewarding.
We should have started a game of “count the taps”…maybe next year! Our buddy, Dave the Miller still needed a visit.
Mr. Dave was busy feeding corn into the hopper and explaining the mechanics of how the many ton grinding stones (carved with patterns called “furrows”) not only crush and grind the corn but also how they are raised and lowered. Most fascinatingly, by park staff still today!
If you bring your kiddos to mill during the week, they can help both shuck the corn and feed the hopper from the second story of the mill. Or, play a nice long game of checkers on a barrel in the beauty and charm of John Wood’s old Grist Mill. (A little birdie told me the Water Wheel may be making its’ return at some point soon, too!) *I am a parks employee that likes to visit and write about parks and play on my free time…hence, the insider scoop! Reminder: No one is paying me to do this. I just don’t want YOU to miss out on the many wonders of nature and experience along the South Shore in Lake County, Indiana!
Are you feeling like we may be tapped out by now?
Maple Syrup Times didn’t tap us out…it cued us in. In to each other. In to our community of naturey folks wandering around with their curiosities wide open. In to the stories and wisdoms of old shared anew. In to our own hearts and wonder. All made quite easy by the sun and smiles shining all around.