"In-between" weather perfect for making maple syrup

Who doesn't love a plate of hot pancakes right off the griddle with some pure maple syrup? Well, you don't have to go to Vermont to get great maple syrup, you can get it right here in Michiana. And now is the perfect time!

It's that time between winter and spring that seems to linger around these parts. But this "in-between seasons" is the perfect season for maple syrup.

Leslie Witkowski, Park Interpreter at Bendix Woods County Park in St. Joseph County tells us, "maple syrup season for our area is typically February and March. You need above freezing temperatures during the day and below freezing temperatures at night in order to get the sap to run. And also, it's when the sap is the sweetest."

At Bendix Woods, students can learn a lot about maple syrup, where it comes from, and how it gets to our table. At the park they tap trees in the sugar bush, with lines running down into the sugar house where the sap is cooked down into syrup.

Students from Swanson Elementary learned how that sap is cooked..and they even got to try their hands at tapping a tree.

"It gives them a sense of where their food actually comes from."

But it's not just at the park where kids are learning about maple syrup. Meet the McGuire family. This home-school family has three maple trees that they tap on their property and cook their own maple syrup.

Joyce McGuire comments on how much her family values this activity, which they have been doing for three years now. "We enjoy it. We have fun doing it. We don't think school needs to be behind a desk all the time."

The McGuire kids are involved throughout the process, starting with tapping the trees and then on to cooking.

Mark McGuire, the oldest son, tells us how the kids get involved. "I light the fire, I pretty much do the fire and watch it mostly, and the girls help, they carry the wood, and they carry the sap, and they skim the pan sometimes."

The cooking process does take some time since the sap is about 97 percent water. Mark puts it into perspective: "It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so there's a lot of water there."

When the sap turns dark it's time to finish it inside using a candy thermometer to get it up to 219 degrees. The result is something definitely worth the wait: pure maple syrup, perfect for those pancakes right off the griddle.

If you would like to learn more about maple syrup, Bendix Woods County Park will be holding its annual Sugar Camp Days on March 19 and 20. For more information click on the Big Red Bar

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