Arboretum does good with sappy brunch

by Jessica Steeno

It takes at least 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. It took only a few minutes this weekend for feasters to absorb that much syrup on a stack of whole wheat pancakes.
Volunteers at the University Landscape Arboretum said more than a thousand visitors consumed between 30 and 50 gallons of pure maple syrup at the 13th annual pancake brunch and maple tour Saturday and Sunday.
The pancake brunch and tour is the only time during the year that the public is allowed a glimpse of the arboretum’s maple facilities, though about 30,000 school children tour the facilities each year.
“Brunch was just a way for us to invite the public to try our syrup and see the process,” said Lori Carsik, arboretum public relations representative. “The purpose of this weekend is really educational.”
The maple trees at the arboretum produce between 90 and 100 gallons of syrup each year, and arboretum staff and volunteers said they are happy to show the public how it’s done.
“Maple syrup is one of the first signs of spring,” said maple syrup producer Matt Schuth. “And it’s fun educating people about how the whole process works.”
After consuming mass quantities of whole wheat pancakes, visitors learned about the history of maple syrup and how it is made.
The process of extracting sap from trees and making it into maple syrup or sugar was first discovered by Native Americans.
Chanhassen, where the arboretum is located, received its name from the Dakota word for land of white and gray bark, which is associated with the abundant maple trees in the area. Dakota people from nearby areas would camp near Chanhassen each year to tap the trees and make sugar.
Native Americans taught the European pioneers how to extract sap and make maple products many years later.
“It was always a family activity, whether you were a Native American family or an early pioneer family,” said arboretum volunteer Jim Fishbaugher, who explained to eager children how Native Americans and early pioneers depended on maple sap for their sugar supply.
Sugar was an important staple of the Dakota diet that was also used to cure meat, since salt was not available to them.
Maple syrup season starts in mid-February and runs through early April. The arboretum taps about 250 trees each year. Although it is possible to tap each tree several times, arboretum workers only tap each tree once.
“This place is really a collection of trees,” Schuth said. “We don’t want to do any more damage to the trees than we are.”
The process of making maple syrup is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago. However, simple technologies such as sap hydrometers, which measure the sugar content of the syrup, have made it easier.
Sap is collected by drilling a hole about 6 inches deep into the trees at about a 5 degree angle. Then, a tap is hammered into the hole and the sap drips from the tap into plastic tubing that runs to the building where the syrup is made. One tree yields 10 to 15 gallons of sap per year.
After the sap is collected from the trees, it is boiled for about an hour into syrup. The sap contains about 5 percent sugar, and it is boiled until the sugar content rises to the required percentage. In order for maple syrup to be considered pure, it must contain 66.5 percent sugar.
Maple trees are most abundant on the east coast of the United States, Canada, and in the Great Lakes region. Canada produces about 85 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and the United States makes the rest.
Vermont is the largest maple-syrup producing state, boasting a production of 525,965 gallons per year. Minnesota produces about 11,000 gallons of maple syrup each year.