by Janet Jonus Image by CS Houghton from Pixabay
As the days grow warmer in our area, maple sap begins to flow. This sap is the basis for sugary goodness in the form of maple syrup, maple sugar, and maple candy.
Western Pennsylvania is home to the sugar maple tree. This tree is native to our area. Every year, sugar maple trees build up starchy deposits to use during the cold winter months. Once the days get warmer, the trees shed this starch. They draw up water through their roots that mixes with the starch and forms sap. The cold nights and warm days of early spring make this sap “flow” through the trees. Maple producers drill small holes into the trees and insert a spout. The sap that flows out of the tap is collected in buckets or with more modern collection systems that consist of tubes that drain into a central collection tank. Only trees that are at least ten inches in diameter and 20-30 years old are tapped. Only a small portion of the sap is collected so the tree itself is not damaged except where the small hole is drilled into the tree which heals itself. Maple producers are careful to take care of their trees as it takes decades to replace a sugar maple.
Maple sugaring has been a tradition in our area since long before Europeans arrived. Native Americans collected sap in birchwood vessels. They then heated the sap by heating up stones and putting them into the sap. The Native Americans would make maple sugar as it was easier to store. They used it to sweeten their food and water.
Modern maple producers use large evaporators to boil the sap. Sap is 98% water, and it has to be boiled off to get thicker to make syrup. The sap has to be carefully watched as it can easily burn. Once the sap is boiled down, the maple syrup is strained and bottled. The sap can also be boiled until almost all of the water evaporates to make maple sugar.
You can learn about maple syrup production in Western Pennsylvania at one of the seminars or festivals that run every weekend in March and into the first weekend of April.
Maple Sugaring at Harrison Hills Park
Learn about how Native Americans and Pioneers made maple syrup and sugar with stories and demonstrations. Make a birch bark container like the Native Americans used to collect sap. This event is for all ages and takes place at Harrison Hills Park in their Environmental Education Center from 130-300PM. The event is FREE but registration is required. https://apm.activecommunities.com/alleghenyparks/Activity_Search?detailskeyword=maple&IsAdvanced=True&ddlSortBy=Simple+Date&DaysOfWeek=0000000&SearchFor=2&SearchLevelID=2&maxAge=100&NumberOfItemsPerPage=20&IsSearch=true
Latodami Young Nature Explorers: Maple Syrup Making
Kids 3-6 years old and their adult will learn about the history and techniques of making maple syrup. Take a tour of the maple sugar trees and sample some syrup. North Park. 1000AM-1130AM. Reservations required. https://apm.activecommunities.com/alleghenyparks/Activity_Search/np-latodami-young-nature-explorers-maple-syrup-making/4778
The maple season really heats up this weekend with several maple events spread across the area.
Sugarbush Tour and Pancake Breakfast at Mingo Creek Park
There is a Sugarbush Tour and Pancake Breakfast at Mingo Creek Park from 900AM-100PM. Join the Washington County Parks and recreation staff for tours starting every half hour. Find out how the trees are tapped and how the sap is turned into syrup. Watch demonstrations. After the tour enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and sausages with maple syrup. All ages. $2.00 per person, pre-registration is required. This is a Family+FunPittsburgh Favorite Event! https://www.co.washington.pa.us/DocumentCenter/View/7842/program-guide-2020-web-format-1-22-2020
Maple Sugar Festival Boyce Park
Take a walk through the trails of Boyce Park and learn about old and new methods of maple sugaring. See demonstrations of maple sugaring techniques and sing seasonal songs. For all ages. There are two sessions, the first is 1130AM-1230PM and the second is 130-230PM. This event is free. Pre-registration is required. https://alleghenycounty.us/special-events/maple-sugaring.aspx
Maple Taste and Tour Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association
Members of the Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association open their farms and business for their annual tour and tasting open house. Nineteen association members spread over Crawford, Erie, Venango, and Warren Counties open their doors to the public. Guests can tours small farms that use traditional methods of maple syrup production, like buckets and steam-powered evaporators, and large farms that use modern production methods spread over hundreds of acres and thousands of sugar maple trees. Samples of maple syrup, maple sugar, maple candy, and more are available. Producers are open on March 14th and 15th from 1000AM through 400PM. It is highly recommended to dress appropriately including boots or heavy footwear as parts of the tours are outdoors. Tours are open for all ages but take a moment and read about the details to make sure you pick places appropriate for your family. The producers are also spread out so driving is necessary. Tours and samples are free. The closest producers near Meadville and Titusville which is about 100 miles north of Pittsburgh. http://pamaple.org/2020-taste-tour/
Maple Madness at the Audubon Society’s Beechwood Farms
The Audubon Society hosts a tour that includes demonstrations of maple sugaring from the past and present. Walk through the beautiful trails of Beechwood Farms and then head in for a pancake breakfast with maple syrup. The first tour heads out at 1000AM. The last seating for the pancake breakfast is at 100PM with a final tour to follow. For all ages. The cost is $10 per person, $6 per person for Audubon members. Pre-registration is required. http://aswp.org/pages/maple-madness-2020
Maple Madness at the Audubon Society’s Succop Nature Park
Take a walk through the Audubon Society’s Succop Nature Park in Butler, PA. Watch demonstrations of maple sugaring from the past and present. Head in for a pancake breakfast with maple syrup. The first tour heads out at 1000AM. The last seating for the pancake breakfast is at 100PM with a final tour to follow. For all ages. The cost is $10 per person, $6 per person for Audubon members. Pre-registration is required. http://aswp.org/pages/maple-madness-2020
March 28th and 29th and April 1st through the 5th
Pennsylvania Maple Festival
The grand-daddy of all Maple Festivals is in Meyersdale Pennsylvania. The entire town celebrates the Maple Sugaring Season. There are crafters and quilters. There are cars, hot rods, and antique car shows. There is a tree tapping ceremony and a parade. The Festival also has a Kids Corner with activities for children. There is something going on every day of the Festival. Admission to the Festival and all activities is $5.00 for adults and $1.00 for kids 6-12. Children five and under are free.
The Lions Pancake Shack has a pancake and sausage breakfast daily from 800AM to 400PM March 28th & 29th and 800AM to 200 April 1st through 3rd and 800AM to 400PM April 4th & 5th. The breakfast is $8.00 for adults and $4.50 for kids 12 and under.
The Pennsylvania Maple Festival is held in downtown Meyersdale. (The address is 120 Meyers Avenue, Meyersdale PA.) Meyersdale is about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, near Somerset. The Festival can get very crowded on weekends, especially if the weather is nice. https://www.pamaplefestival.com/
The Maple Sugaring Season is brief so make your plans now to get a taste of this all-natural treat!