Hundreds attend Maple Heritage Festival

March 16, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Maple Heritage FestivalHundreds attend Maple Heritage Festival

THURMONT, Md. - Pancakes would hardly be worth eating without maple syrup soaked into each piece and dripping off of the fork.

But hundreds of people who attended the 28th Maple Heritage Festival at Cunningham Falls State Park Sunday learned there's more to maple syrup than simply squeezing the sweet and sticky stuff out of a plastic bottle commonly found on supermarket shelves.

"There's a lot of work and a lot of time and very little yield," said Richard Doney, a park ranger who was demonstrating the maple syrup making process.


Observing the bundled up crowd that huddled close to the big kettle of boiling sap tapped from nearby sugar maple trees, Doney thanked his audience for braving the cold and wind.

"Unfortunately, this is typical maple sap weather," he said.

At Cunningham Falls State Park, 40 sugar maple trees are tapped around the end of February and beginning of March.

The sap moves up from the tree roots, where it's stored in the winter, when the winter days start turning warm, and it moves back down when the nights are cold, Doney said.

There's a narrow window of time to collect the sap before it rises to the treetops to feed the buds and leaves in the spring and summer, Doney said.

A household staple since colonial times, maple syrup was first produced by American Indians who tapped the trees with a hatchet and wedge, collected the sap, and boiled it, Doney said.

Maple Heritage Fest.The process hasn't changed much over the years.

At Cunningham Falls State Park, tapping the sugar maple trees is done by drilling a hole into the tree about two inches deep and placing a metal spile into it that funnels the sap into a tin bucket or a special plastic bag.

The trees have to be at least 10 inches in diameter to withstand one tap. Larger trees can handle as many as four taps at a time, he said.

The process doesn't hurt the tree, Doney replied to a question from someone in the crowd.

Sap from sugar maple trees is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar, which explains why it looks and tastes like tap water from a faucet, Doney said, as he poured some from a ladle.

The sap is collected and placed into the large kettle that is heated by a log fire. It takes several hours to boil the sap down into a slightly thicker syrup consistency.

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, Doney said.

Canada is the world's top maple syrup producing country with the United States a close second, Doney said.

Vermont is ranked the nation's No. 1 maple syrup producer, with an output of around 400,000 gallons a year, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After tasting the maple syrup he poured over his stack of pancakes and sausage links, Aaron Minyard, 10, of Woodbridge, Va., said it'll be hard to go back to the store-bought syrup after tasting the real stuff.

"This one's thinner, but I like it better," he said.

The festival will continue this weekend, March 28 and 29, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the park, about a 10-minute drive east from Smithsburg off Md. 77 on Catoctin Hollow Road.

Besides tree tapping and sap boiling demonstrations, the festival also features mountain crafts, an antique farm machinery display, children's stories and a tour of the park on horse-drawn carriages.

Cost is $1 per person.

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