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Festival crowd learns about maple sugaring

February 29, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Cold nights and warming daytime temperatures this week provided the perfect balance for collecting sap from maple trees; and Saturday's sunny weather provided the perfect setting for area families to learn all about the process.

They flocked to the second annual Maple Sugar Festival at the Fairview Outdoor Center on Draper Road to see demonstrations of tapping maple trees and boiling the sap to make syrup.

They got to see the buckets hanging from the trees, collecting the sap. They saw the sap boiling in a kettle on an open fire. They saw holes in the trees bored by yellow-bellied sap-suckers who feed both on the sap and on the insects it attracts. And they heard the legend of how the sugary sweetness of maple sap was discovered.

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It's a tale that came from New England, volunteer John Clatterbaugh said. Seems a Native American warrior returning to camp late stuck his tomahawk into a maple tree. By morning, sap had collected in a bark vessel attached to the weapon.

"He may have been able to taste the sweetness of it," Clatterbaugh said, though few people can really taste it in the sap. But he boiled some meat in it and liked the taste. So did his fellows.

"And he said, 'you know, if we bottle this stuff and put a label on it, they'll buy it in New York City," Clatterbaugh teased.

Down the hill from the maple grove, Charles Bowler was boiling sap and explaining to visitors the differences between pure maple syrup and various commercial brands. He made a point of reading off various additives in some of them.

"This stuff is nasty," he said, holding up a bottle of commercial syrup. One of its ingredients, he said, also is found in automatic dishwashing detergent.

Even the color was produced by additives, he said.

Pure maple syrup is more expensive, he conceded, partly because of energy costs for boiling the sap, which he said is only 1.5 percent to 2 percent sugar.

The demonstration made an impression on 8-year-old Sarah Swope of Clear Spring.

"I learned a lot of stuff" during her visit, she said. "Like how much sap it takes to make one gallon of syrup."

And the answer is? "40."

Coordinator Pearl Howell, a teacher at the center, said staff and volunteers - including several students from Clear Spring High School - started tapping the grove of maple trees Feb. 15.

Clear Spring student Larry Hose told visitors that holes were drilled at a 30-degree angle, 2 inches into the tree trunk. The tap then was hammered into the hole, and the bucket would hang from the tap.

"It's really a pretty simple process," he said.

Children were encouraged to make crafts during the festival; Jonathan Clark, a home-schooled kindergartener from Pectonville, Md., "liked making deer tracks," he said. He'd also found what he assumed was a "skunk hole" by the pond.

Many of the festival visitors also wandered over to the historic Plumb Grove homestead. Sarah Swope and her sisters toured the house, and 10-year-old Shea was struck by a wedding portrait in the foyer - only the bride was wearing black because she was observing a year of mourning for a loved one.

Olivia Swope, 6, was intrigued by the ropes supporting the antique beds at Plumb Grove.

"They had to tighten them every night," she said. "They didn't have mattresses like us. They had straw." And the straw could attract a special feature - "bedbugs!"

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