Today 5/6ths of my family participated in a fun activity at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop-Farm. With the help of volunteer lead instructors we learned how to tap a tree for sap and the process by which this becomes syrup.
Apparently this is a popular activity as hours after it published the event was full and we were placed on the waitlist. Luckily the demand was high enough they added another time and worked us in. Hearing this my oldest son decided that he would abstain to yield his spot to someone “who wanted to do it more”.
We’ve been pretty reserved in our social connections as of late due to the pandemic and were thus excited to participate in something new, educational and tasty! We built our whole day around this activity delivering Girl Scout cookies and propane (for the houseless community) to folks on the south side of town and planning to make good on some Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que gift certificates we had received.
Our time slot arrived and we obediently queued our van up behind the lead City of Olathe truck then disembarked to listen to a brief over view of the process and the plan for the day. We were to follow the experts to the nearby Olathe Memorial Cemetery where the century old Maple trees waited. Weaving through neighborhoods with a string of roughly 20 vehicles we arrived along the south edge of the property to find a couple trees already tapped, presumably from the first session.
Once everyone had loosely clustered around the next untapped tree in the row they gave us a history of the processes and handed out the tools. While we were using modern metal equipment from tapmytrees.com it followed the same general processes Native Americans used as far back as the twelfth century. Modern mass manufacturers hook trees up to a series of tubes that all run to a general collection site. As it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup you need a high volume supply.
Once the new tap was in we returned to the existing taps to collect what looked like simple water but in actuality was tree sap. Trees can produce a small trickle to a steady stream of the sugary substance depending on recent weather, the species, age/size of the tree and location of the tap. To my surprise a large number of trees can be used for this purpose not just Maples.
Once we returned to the farm we were lead to a prepared fire where we added our bounty to the pot and learned that it needed to be heated to roughly 219 degrees causing the water to evaporate and the remaining substance to harden like candy. They had some prepared from the morning event for folks to taste test and as expected it was a sweet slightly smokey tasting crumble. Pamphlets with an overview of the processes were handed out and we all dreamt of doing this at home only to remember we have but 2 large Burr Oaks and one Pear tree, none of which are ideal for syrup production. Not to fear I knew how to make my own syrup with a couple of simple ingredients.
When I was young my step-mom taught me to take 2 cups of sugar and mix it with one cup of water then bring it to a boil stirring throughout. The moment you see the bubbles remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of Map extract and mix. A tasty and easy syrup made on the fly!