Southeastway Park officials lead syrup-gathering classes

NEW PALESTINE — The metal bucket was attached to the sugar maple tree in the middle of the woods at Southeastway Park.

A spout had been placed into the side of the tree, just above the rim of the bucket, so when the tap opened, the sap and water content could dribble into the collecting pail.

The 180-acre park is home to a sugar bush area, where 80 sugar maple trees are used at the end of each winter, as the trees start to wake up, to make about 20 gallons of fresh maple syrup, sold for $10 a bottle.

There is a small 30-day window each year from mid-February to mid-March where sap can be drained from a tree to make syrup, officials said.

Park officials use the brief time frame each year to offer syrup-making classes to showcase the process.

They use sugar maple trees to tap into because they have more sugar in the sap than other maple trees do, park officials said.

“I love this stuff – I eat it all the time,” Chris Martini, park manager said. “We really make some good syrup here.”

Martini and his two person staff, along with Norman Laufer, 78, a New Palestine resident who volunteers at the park, held a couple of syrup making classes in early March.

Laufer has been helping officials at the park turn sap into syrup for over a decade.

“I’ve made it at home too,” he said. “It tastes just as good, if not better, than what you get in the store.”

The class costs $6 a person, which helps pay for the syrup making process to show others how it’s done.

After watching a short slide presentation on the sugar maple tree and how the tree gives sap, Martini walked the group into the woods where he talked about how American Indians made syrup and how early pioneers perfected the process.

The class then used modern-day tools to drill a hole in a dead tree and watched how the sap is drained from a live sugar maple tree with tubes.

It was an ideal lesson for area ‘do-it-yourself’ers.

“We’re real interested in making stuff at home and I thought this would be a neat process to see,” said Lydia Jay Weiss of Indianapolis.

Martini reminded the group syrup does not flow out of trees, but rather sap requires a cooking process to turn it into syrup.

“It would be nice if we could get a plate of pancakes and walk up to a tree and get our syrup rolling out of there,” Martini said with a laugh.

Homemade syrup making is about a four-hour project, officials said. It starts with going into the woods, getting out the sap, then cooking it.

As the clear fluid is cooked for three to four hours, it gets darker and starts getting sweet and sticky, Martini said.

After cooking, the syrup is taken to a finishing station, where it is filtered and tested with a tool called a hydrometer to make sure it is ready to be bottled.

When the syrup is finally finished, each batch will have a distinct color, such as golden, amber or dark. Syrups made earlier in the year tend to have a lighter color, while darker colored syrups can have a stronger maple flavor toward the end of syrup-making season.

“You never know what you’re going to get until it’s done,” Martini said.

Martini likes being able to show people how neat nature is, he said. He loves this time of year when the woods start to wake up after a winter freeze and trees begin to stir and start to flow with sap.

It’s important to be connected to the earth, its roots, rhythms and its cycles, Martini said.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.