Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

A month or so ago, while Sweetie was enjoying her pancake breakfast, she inquired about how they make maple syrup. I explained the process to her as best I could from memory and as I concluded she asked if we could try to make some ourselves.  I assured her that we could. That in fact, her Papa J was an expert on making your own syrup.

It’s Sugaring Time!

I pulled out an article he wrote for his company newsletter years ago in which he described his experiment tapping Big Leaf Maple, Alder, and Wild Cherry trees in the Willamette Valley. We gave him a call and he shared a little more about his experience tapping Maple trees. We talked about getting together with him but travel and work obligations just didn’t cooperate. We would just have to play it by ear and see what developed.

A few days later, we met up with him for a birthday dinner and he presented us with the taps. “You’re in luck, Sweetie. The weather the past few days has been just right for tapping trees,” Papa said. “You’ll just need to find some over there in Central Oregon.”

Making Our Own Maple Syrup

By sure luck, as I was explaining this endeavor to my girlfriend, she mentioned that her grandmother had a Sugar Maple in her yard. “I’m always having to rake her leaves in the fall!” she exclaimed, and she gave us permission to tap it.

We tapped it on Monday around 12:30 p.m. and within a few hours we had collected nearly 1 liter! I was actually surprised with how quickly it started to flow. Unfortunately, the weather has since changed and the flow has slowed significantly.

The bottle was in place for just a couple of days as we had a bit of a cold spell and the sap flow had slowed significantly. We were fortunate though to collect nearly a 1/2 gallon of sap from that one tree. As we wanted to do the experiment with Papa, we stored the sap in the refrigerator and waited until he came to visit.

Papa came over a week later and we got to boiling down the sap we had collected previously. You can see in the photo, that the sap has just come to boil… from that point, it took about an hour and a half to finish the process. Unfortunately, we yielded only about 1 tablespoon of syrup but it was so yummy! While they waited, Papa read a book about Maple Sugaring to Sweetie and thereafter, they spent the rest of the evening drawing.

Fortunately, in the weeks that followed, we were also able to locate several other trees and obtained permission to tap those as well.  As the weather was more conducive to tapping in the following weeks, we employed 8 taps and collected enough sap to yield a greater quantity – enough to enjoy on our pancakes!

Thank you, Dad, for sharing your experience with me. Your love of nature has certainly shaped who I am as a woman and is a major part of why I chose to home school the kids.

Maple Syrup Unit Study

We covered a variety of topics associated with maple syrup such as:  trees to tap, parts of a Maple tree, where maple syrup is produced, tapping tools, maple syrup products, the maple syrup process and even more.  It was a great week of fun learning.  Here are a few of the resources we used throughout our study:

Literature

For a unit study on maple sugar, Little House in the Big Woods, is the perfect book. Told from four-year-old Laura’s point of view, the story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and includes chapters devoted specifically to sugaring time.

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s treasured Little House series, which was based on her life growing up as an American pioneer. You might also be interested in the complete Laura Ingalls Wilder set that includes: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years.

Hidden away since the 1930s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s never-before-published autobiography, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, reveals the true stories of her pioneering life. Some of her experiences will be familiar; some will be a surprise. Pioneer Girl re-introduces readers to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions of people around the world.

With this heavily annotated edition, with maps and appendices that enrich the text, readers can revel in her memories of her family and their pioneer life from 1869 to 1888 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakota Territory.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker is far from just a cookbook, it’s about a way of life that was a hard existence, but one that many of us dream of. Whether you are already a “Little House” fan, or are new to the series, this book can be enjoyed by all “wanna-be 1800’s pioneer women.”

It includes more than 100 recipes introducing the foods and cooking of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneer childhood, chronicled in her classic Little House books. This is not just a cookbook, it’s an interactive history book, and an in-depth analysis of Laura Wilder’s Little House books.

We also enjoyed:

The Maple Syrup Book by Marilyn Linton

Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky

Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall

Memory Work

From where I lingered in a lull in March
outside the sugar-house one night for choice,
I called the fireman with a careful voice
And bade him leave the pan and stoke the arch:
‘O fireman, give the fire another stoke,
And send more sparks up chimney with the smoke.’
I thought a few might tangle, as they did,
Among bare maple boughs, and in the rare
Hill atmosphere not cease to glow,
And so be added to the moon up there.
The moon, though slight, was moon enough to show
On every tree a bucket with a lid,
And on black ground a bear-skin rug of snow.
The sparks made no attempt to be the moon.
They were content to figure in the trees
As Leo, Orion, and the Pleiades.
And that was what the boughs were full of soon.

~ Robert Frost

Lapbook

We created one of our first lapbooks, Maple Syrup, as a part of our unit study. This free download covers the how-to of sugaring very well.  There are mini-books for the tools and equipment, the process of tapping trees, what trees can be tapped, and science experiments.

Websites

  • Tree Ring Diagram (from Arbor Day) provides a description of tree layers. As the kids are young, our focus was on understanding there are layers to the tree and that the sap runs in the one called sapwood.

 

Homeschooling in 1880 :: Living History Volunteers

Shortly after we made the decision to homeschool, we started volunteering at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters.  It was an easy decision for I had volunteered there weekly before my second was born.  I have always been fascinated by history and was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

We volunteer once a week – generally from 10 – 3p.m.  We thereby pack a lunch that I carefully wrap in a piece of muslin and place into a basket.  I also toss in a few historic books and games to keep us occupied – but I seldom use them as the kids enjoy being there and always find a chore or task they love doing.

service learning

My Journal Entry – Sept 19th, 1880

It was a relatively slow day at the homestead today. As the weather gets cooler, there are fewer visitors. There are fewer chores to do as the garden vegetables have been harvested and the kiddos are no longer occupied with pumping water and watering the crops. It provides ample opportunity for us to work on schooling, learning our letters and numbers. We also have more time for crafts. Sweetie would love to learn to knit but I’ll need to acquire that skill myself before I can begin to teach her.

I wanted to work with the speller book to do some copywork and spelling but she wasn’t interested. I am beginning to believe her strengths are science and math as well as the arts. It is sometime difficult to get her excited about writing tasks and doing the mundane reading drills. She will learn to read and write in time, I am confidant. I don’t want to force her and thereby kill her interest and desire.

Instead, Sweetie and I worked on numbers for a while on the slate. She can do single-digit addition with ease and so I threw in some single-digit mulitiplication. 3×5, 2×3, 2×4, etc. After my example, she drew little groups of dots to help her to visualize the problems. For 2×4, she drew 2 groups of 4 dots. I tried to trick her later with 4×2. She drew the 4 groups of 2 dots and then proclaimed with glee, “It’s the same!” I then showed her how a number mulitiplied by 1 will always be that number. 2×1 is 1. 5×1 is 5. 12×1 is 12. 100×1 is 100. She caught on to that immediately.

service learningI then introduced her to double-digit addition; 23+12, 15+4, etc. Her initial response was, “Oh! That’s too hard.” I insisted it wasn’t as difficult as it looked and showed her how to add each column (carrying and borrowing haven’t yet been introduced). She worked through a few of them with relative comfort as well before becoming distracted by the activities of her little brother.  So, while she made mud pies with her brother, I read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems aloud. She enjoyed this very much and requested another when I concluded each poem.

Reflections on Living History Interpretation

It is fun to interact with the visitors. It is becoming easier to answer their questions and remain in character. In the beginning, I was stumped by these frequent questions,

“Why do you … / What made you choose this lifestyle?”
“Do you volunteer here or are you paid staff?”
“How often do you do this?”
“Do your children attend school?”

I try my best to respond in a way that answers their question but at the same time, maintains the appearance that they are traveling through time. For example,

“I don’t know any other lifestyle. Unless of course, you mean living in the city. I am not much of a city girl myself. But Mrs. Blair – she’s from Eugene City – she is always going into Prineville to shop and visit with friends.”

“We chose to homestead here. It can be difficult with the dry climate and all but in time our efforts will reap rewards. We make do. There are some hired hands here on the Blair place. But typically we take care of our own and look after one another. Being so far from family, we open our doors to neighbors and friends.”

“My children and I come to call on the Blair’s about once a week. We have family that lives down the road and we always stop by for a visit as we return home. Our homestead is a few miles closer to Prineville so it makes for a convenient place to rest while we enjoy our dinner.”

“There aren’t enough school children in these parts just now for a school. We are hoping more young families settle here so that the community can build a school and hire a school marm. I therefore school my children at home. They do quite well.”

Sometimes, it takes a few additional questions before the visitor understands. It is fun to hear Sweetie interact with the visitors. I occasionally overhear snippets of her conversations and can’t help but smile. Children are such sponges! 🙂