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Creating maple syrup requires time

February 27, 2005|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

CLEAR SPRING - The program was meant for children, but Yasmine Akmal seemed to be getting at least as big a kick out of the maple syrup demonstrations as her son was.

Akmal, 40, of Hagerstown, said she learned through her 10-year-old son that the Maple Sugaring and Heritage Day Program at Fairview Outdoor Education Center would be Saturday. She then smiled at her son and quipped: "He just wanted to play video games."

"Na-ah," young Omair Akmal said in protest.

"I was always interested to know how to make maple syrup," Yasmine Akmal said. "This is a nice opportunity. ... The whole process was so interesting."

While the volunteers at the center did not actually make any maple syrup, they showed attendees how to do it.

"First, you take your hand drill," said Larry Hose, a senior at Clear Spring High School who was demonstrating tree-tapping techniques. He was standing next to a 2-foot section of a tree trunk that was being used for practice.

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Assuming it was a real tree, Hose said, "You go about waist-high up on the tree" with the drill, twisting the bit only enough turns so it took hold in the wood. He then angled the bit upward into the hole he had started.

Hose said after the drill had penetrated 2 inches, you can stick a metal tap into the tree. And with a clip, a bucket can hang off the tap.

When another volunteer, who was discussing real trees, showed the Akmals what the sap looked like, they saw a watery liquid with only the slightest hue of brown associated with maple syrup.

"I thought it would be much thicker," Yasmine Akmal said.

Under a pavilion roof, volunteer Chuck Bowler yarned about methods of boiling maple syrup, how "in the old days" there would be syrup camps where men would sleep in shifts, watching the syrup boil for days to evaporate the water and condense the syrup to the form that goes over pancakes.

Ed Hazlett, the outdoor center's head teacher, conceded that visitors would not be able to taste the volunteers' product on Saturday, but there were real maple syrup samples on hand.

"We bought it," Hazlett said.

Not far from Bowler's demonstration area, Jared Henry, 12, a student at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, was handing out tasty samples of store-bought, but 100-percent real, maple syrup.

He said it was "cool" hanging out, and asked if this was better than being in a classroom, he said, "Oh, yeah!"

Omair Akmal, whose mother had enjoyed the visit, said he was looking forward to coming back.

"I hope maybe next year in fifth grade, when we go to outdoor school, we might be able to get maple syrup ... I really like it," Omair said.

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