Thursday, March 12, 2015

Maple Sugaring at NJ's Great Swamp

When I was a kid, I hated maple syrup. If someone served me French toast, I ate it plain. If someone served me pancakes, I spread butter on top or used a fruit syrup like raspberry or blueberry syrup.

But maple syrup? Blech.

Fast forward many, many years and now I always eat maple syrup on my pancakes AND waffles.

I outgrew my hatred of maple syrup.
(Just one of the many foods of which I've outgrown my hatred. I used to not "like" spinach because one time cooked spinach landed on my arm, and it was hot and it burnt me. Thank goodness I got past that one. Still can't get past bananas, though. Sometimes I think, "Man, I could really go for a banana", and then I realize that what I imagine a banana tastes like is not really what a banana tastes like.)

But the maple syrup you buy in the store, unless you're buying pure maple syrup, isn't really REAL maple syrup. Sorry, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth's, but you're pretty much just corn syrup. (Side note: how come there isn't a male brand of fake syrup?)

Pure maple syrup is tapped from a maple tree as sap and then boiled until all the water evaporates and all you've got is the sugar, which at a temperature of 219 degrees becomes syrup.

Sap collecting in a bucket on a tapped tree
How do I know this? Well, New Jersey is home to sugar maple and red maple trees, and is in an area of the U.S. where the weather is just perfect for getting sap from these trees. And you can learn about tapping maple trees for sap at the Maple Sugaring Events at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham, New Jersey.

I attended one of the demonstrations last weekend out of curiosity for just what this event was. The promise of a maple syrup taste test also did a lot to lure me there.

Mindy, our guide for the day, tapping a tree!
The weekend demonstrations are definitely more kid-oriented, and because the maple syrup season is during winter, you'll want to wear your snow boots for the outdoor part of the presentation. It wasn't as hands-on as I had hoped, but perhaps there's more of that at the season-end Maple Sugar Festival.

If I'm promised food, I will usually show up. Also, there is quite a difference between real and fake syrup!
I did learn a lot, more than I thought I knew about maple syrup. And it was a nice and relatively inexpensive way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon. The maple syrup season ends this weekend in New Jersey, and you can find out more about this Saturday's event here. If you can't make it, take the time to check out this event next year, especially if you've got kids or have an interest in maple syrup.

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