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Maple syrup event in Berks teaches how to produce the sweet liquid

Candace Johnson has often eaten the store-bought blend of chemicals and artificial flavors that sells as maple syrup, but she’d never tasted the real thing.

So on Saturday, the 17-year-old and her father, Wayne Johnson, attended the annual maple sugaring event held at Gring’s Mill Recreation Area in Spring Township by the Berks County Parks and Recreation Department.

There they got to learn how the process works, to see maple sap tapped from a tree on site, and to taste sap boiled down to true maple syrup.

The verdict?

“It’s great,” she said, looking to her dad. “I think it’s time for you to plant a maple tree.”

About 50 attended the event, and most agreed with Johnson, including her dad.

“Natural is always better,” he said.

Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, leads a maple sugaring workshop Saturday at Gring's Mill. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, leads a maple sugaring workshop Saturday at Gring’s Mill. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

For those with trees on their properties, recreation and special events supervisor for the county Lisa Gauker helped them to identify which ones are maple trees.

Sugar maples work best for syrup, she said, since their sap contains two percent sugar compared to 98 percent water, while silver, red and Norway maple sap is only one percent sugar.

Even with sugar maples, though, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The syrup Gauker provided to guests Saturday was boiled for six hours at 219 degrees until it was just right.

“That’s why real maple syrup isn’t cheap,” she said.

Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, leads a maple sugaring workshop Saturday at Gring's Mill. Gauker boils down the sap into syrup. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, leads a maple sugaring workshop Saturday at Gring’s Mill. Gauker boils down the sap into syrup. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

The process to tap the sap from trees, though, isn’t overly complicated.

All you need is a drill, a plastic hose with a tap on one end to stick into the tree, and a bucket for the sap to drain into. The hose and tap can be easily found online.

To help protect younger trees, though, you should only tap those that are at least a few feet in circumference at least 15 years old, as smaller trees will have a tougher time rebounding from their tap wounds, she said.

The last few winters have not been good for producing maple syrup at Gring’s Mill, with last year being one of the worst in memory, Gauker said.

That is because there were too many steep temperature fluctuations throughout those winters.

Syrup sap is best to tap when the nighttime temperatures are below freezing, and the daytime highs are between the upper 30s and lower 40s.

These winter’s temperatures have usually been that range, and Saturday, which was sunny and 37 degrees following a cold night, was perfect, she said.

So as soon as Gauker drilled a hole a few up off the ground into the sunniest side of a sugar maple, sap began dripping out.

Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, demonstrates how to tap a maple tree for sap. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Lisa Gauker, recreation and special events supervisor for the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, demonstrates how to tap a maple tree for sap. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Several tried the sap straight from the source, but it mostly looked and tasted like water.

Inside, though, where the visitors were served mini pancakes with the sap boiled down to syrup, several said they were impressed with the flavor.

Steve Wilson of Kutztown said he grew up on a farm in Berks, but as a boy never grew anything, just tore out the overgrowth that encroached on the property.

Now, though, after attending Saturday’s even with his daughter Kit, 5, and his wife Shawnee, he said he’s motivated to acquire some land with maple trees and try it himself.

Kit Wilson, 5, daughter of Steve and Shawnee Wilson of Kutztown, samples some of the fresh maple syrup on a pancake. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Kit Wilson, 5, daughter of Steve and Shawnee Wilson of Kutztown, samples some of the fresh maple syrup on a pancake. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

“The process is simple. It’s completely doable,” he said. “And it’s great to taste something that’s harvested right here.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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