The staff at Hale Farm and Village are preparing for their annual sweet tradition: the Maple Sugar Festival in March.
I was one of several invited down to Hale Farm on Feb. 19 to watch how the abundant sugar maple trees on the property were tapped now for the sweet sap that will flow once the temperatures warm up. I've been to the Maple Sugar Festival before, so I was somewhat familiar with the process already. But I'm still in awe over how time-consuming the process is. Some interesting numbers, courtesy of Hale Farm:
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
It takes about eight hours to make 1 gallon of syrup.
Much of the time is in boiling off the water from the sap, which starts out at 2 percent sugar and 98 percent water.
"We will tap about 40 to 60 trees," said Jason Klein, site manager. "Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar, which is why we use them. You can tap any maple, but you don't get as much, and the taste is off."
The ideal maple sugaring weather is when daytime temperatures are above 40 degrees, and evening temperatures are below freezing, Klein said. Right now, the staff is tapping the trees to get ready for the warmer weather, but no sap will flow until the temperatures rise.
Last year was an excellent year for maple sugaring, Klein added.
"Last year, people were tapping their trees in January and February, and they had a good run through March," he said. "Sometimes, we were emptying our 2 1/2 gallon buckets twice a day."
Jeff Jones of Kent, who goes by Obediah during the programs at Hale Farm, said the pioneers learned many of the maple sugaring techniques from the Native Americans.
"If you had a sugar maple tree, you didn't cut it down," Jones said. "Sugar was an extremely valuable bartering tool. You could get nails from a blacksmith, you could get a pane of glass for your cabin, you could get a ribbon for your hair, you could get a bowl of calico. Sugar was very valuable to sweeten foods and as a preservative."
Early Native Americans and pioneers did not initially make maple syrup because they had no way to properly store it, Jones added. Instead, they made maple sugar and maple sugar candy.
Maple Sugar Festival
Hale Farm's annual Maple Sugar Festival and Pancake Breakfast will be March 15, 16, 22 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
Admission to Hale Farm is $15 for adults, $10 for children 3 to 12 years old, and $5 for members. Breakfast is $5, and served until 3 p.m. The festival includes taping demonstrations, local syrup samples, craft demonstrations and oxen demonstrations.
Hale Farm is at 2686 Oak Hill Road in Bath. For details, call 330-666-3711 or visit www.halefarm.org online.