KENOSHA NEWS CORRESPONDENT
SOMERS — Cold nights and warmer days can mean only one thing in March — it’s maple syrup time.
“When it gets warm and freezes, and warms and freezes, it’s the only time you can tap the trees and get the sap out,” said TJ Leveque, grounds curator and guide at the Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary and Arboretum, 880 Green Bay Road.
Leveque was one of the guides showing the groups of kids and adults in Saturday’s Maple Sugarin’ class just where maple syrup comes from before it gets into a bottle. The homemade syrup is also sold to help support the nature center.
No one minded traipsing through the snow-covered trails into the wooded areas to find liquid treasure. Temperatures have been just right to make the sap go down to the roots at night, then rise in the tree in the warm mornings. Some trees even got tapped early during the 60-degree days, said Leveque.
For Kenoshan Colby Millea, Saturday’s experience harkened back to his youth.
“I grew up in upstate New York and we would go do maple syrup all the time,” he said. “I thought it’d be a good thing for the kids to see how it’s done.”
Patti Houdek of Racine brought her grandkids, Keira Reinke, 6, and Natalie, 4. “It’s a great learning experience,” she said.
The nature center now has some 90 trees tapped, with buckets emptied at least three times daily by four staff members.
“We take about 60 gallons per tree per season,” Leveque said, with staff also measuring output and logging data on each tree. “It takes hours to collect.”
The process begins by drilling a hole about an inch deep in a sugar maple, identifiable by its vertical white lines and light gray bark.
A spile, or metal spigot with a hook, is then inserted, which lets the sap run into the attached bucket.
Instead of just a drip, on a “good” tree, “sometimes it’s almost a stream,” he said. “So far, we’ve made 10 batches of syrup.”
After the tour, everyone gathered at the Sugar Shack, where Joe Funk and Lori Artiomow explained the process of how the sap, which is filtered through a cloth bag first to eliminate bugs and debris, is boiled into syrup.
Just like in canning, the finished product is poured boiling hot into bottles. It takes about eight hours to boil 40 gallons of sap, Artiomow said.
Collections earlier in the season will have a lighter color and often a lighter taste.
Riley Kuszuta, 9, of Racine, found the whole process interesting.
“I’ve never really known about this,” he said. “I thought they just drilled a hole and put a bucket on it.”
The best part, of course, was sampling the fresh sap.
Visitors could taste a drop on their fingers right from the tree, or put their mouths under the spigot.
At the end, they also could try snow-cone samples with crushed ice and fresh maple syrup, which got rave reviews.
“I want more,” said Riley.
“It’s way better,” said his 14-year-old brother Kiernan, who liked the whole program. “I think it’s cool. I didn’t know all this stuff.”
If you go
What: Maple Sugarin’ class
When: 10 a.m. to noon March 25.
Cost: $10 adults, $5 children.
Register: online at www.hawthornhollow.org/classes/maple-sugarin-class/.
Upcoming: Annual spring pancake breakfast fundraiser, Birds and Breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m. May 13. Cost is $7 in advance, $9 at the door.