Too often, though, we take simple joys like maple syrup for granted. Where does it come from? How is it made? I’ve always imagined a community of lumberjacks in some dramatic, northern location (like Canada or Vermont), toiling away the wee hours of the morning to whip up a secret concoction. Now that I’m basically a northerner, (at least geographically), I’ve learned that maple syrup is actually a very hot commodity in our very own mitten! Michigan, you’ve surprised me yet again—why are you always so cool?I recently stumbled upon “Maple’s Sweet Story,” a series of weekend tours during March that detail the process of maple syrup production. Taking place at several area Metroparks, “Maple’s Sweet Story” guides visitors through basics such as maple tree identification, tapping tools, and the overall sap-to-syrup transformation process. The tours are led by experts who combine just the right amount of instruction with hands-on demonstration, so attendees can realistically walk away with sufficient knowledge to tap maple trees in their own yards. The task of producing enough sap for a stack of pancakes, however, is a greater chore than many might expect. According to the tour guide at Kensington Metropark’s sugar bush, it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of maple syrup. Factor in tapping trees only 10 inches or larger in diameter (it often takes about 30 or 40 years for trees to mature to this size), and you’re gonna need a really big forest and a lot of free time. Although they don’t have quite the same resources that commercial (read: GIANT) syrup producers do, Michigan’s Metroparks regularly tap hundreds of trees for a fresh, local product that’s pleasing to the taste buds. The syrup is made on location in enclosed “sugar shacks,” where raw tree sap is placed into hot vats and boiled until water evaporates to reveal a sweet, palatable syrup. This syrup is then packaged into adorable, little bottles and sold at Farm Center offices. At first glance, the price tag may seem steep (about a dollar an ounce), but it is largely justified after witnessing the amount of time and effort spent on creating each batch. Oh, and if you’re wondering—yes, I did have pancakes with maple syrup for lunch the next day. And they were delicious, but I think that goes without saying.
Have you visited any Metroparks recently or in past years to learn about Michigan’s maple syrup production? Are you willing to pay a little more for local products, or are you interested in making similar products on your own? Comment below with your thoughts!