Maple syrup brings lessons needed

Native Americans are credited with originating the making of maple syrup, which was then shared and passed down to the delight of anyone who has ever been a part of the process.

Learning life skills

A woman I work with told me that when her older brother was in elementary school, an annual tradition was the making of maple syrup on school grounds. Ann said that the janitors would tap the sugar maples on school property, with students in one specific grade being involved and included in the process of it. Students would help with the gathering of sugar water, bringing it in to the cafeteria cooks who began the long, sticky, steamy process of cooking the thin, sweet liquid down in to a thick syrup.

Students were included as much as possible, helping them to understand the long, labor-intensive process. It takes at least 30 gallons of sugar water to make 1 gallon of syrup.

A family we have known for a lifetime with a sugar camp say that it can vary from year to year, but often their equation is closer to 50 gallons of sugar water to 1 gallon of maple syrup for a thicker, sweeter finished product. Each spring, we would gather for a taffy-pulling party as sugar camp was closed out for another season.

Yearly Maple syrup meal

When the school’s syrup season was wrapped up, Ann said that a large, tasty meal was made in the cafeteria, using the maple syrup as the star ingredient. Students could invite parents and grandparents, and on the bountiful years, syrup was available for sale. It was a bright chapter in the school year in which students looked forward to participating, with the younger students itching to get their turn in the big project. Ann is still a bit salty that her family moved out of that school district before she got her turn at the fun.

Think of it! Botany, industriousness, cooperative effort, sanitation, kitchen skills, patience, determination, marketing and even cooking was all being taught. What a wonderful program!

Yesterday compared to today

In today’s world, as Ann pointed out, the janitors wouldn’t be allowed to tap the trees and the cafeteria workers would have to say no to the boiling down of the sugar water because that type of work was not included in their contract.

Sticking a tap in the trees would likely prompt someone in the community to complain it was environmentally damaging to the school-owned trees. Students would not be allowed to gather the sugar water and carry it to the school kitchen because they might get hurt either outdoors or in the kitchen.

The health department would get involved and there is no way they would smile upon such endeavors in the school cafeteria. And the serving of a nature-derived product would likely have to be inspected and labeled before it could be made available to the “public” even if it was only to the proud parents and grandparents of the children who had a hand in it.

Alternative treat

For those of you who do enjoy a good, true maple syrup, here is a recipe to try. Melt 1/8 c. butter over low heat, then stir in 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/2 cup light honey.

Serve over pancakes, biscuits, even fried potatoes or chicken. It is a wonderful all-American treat!

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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