Essay: Maple Taps & Sugar Shacks

Green Talk, February 2016

In 2015–16, Elizabeth G Fagan wrote the monthly column “Green Talk” for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve. Fagan was a professional writer for many years, including a decade during which she operated her own business. Art, content, and photography © 2015, 2016, Elizabeth G Fagan, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast,

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Green Talk February 2016
Tapping maples at Mequon Nature Preserve

By the time Europeans arrived in what is now New England, indigenous Americans had already discovered the lovely nectar with which we drown our breakfast pancakes. When carefully boiled, they found, maple sap turns into maple syrup. Today, artificial syrups dominate the grocery shelf, but pure maple syrup is usually there, too. And it is still made the way Native Americans made it―with 21st-century tweaks, of course.

In spring, sap rises through the trunks of deciduous trees to promote growth and nourish branches and leaves. The sap of maple trees (species Acer) is relatively sweet—especially that of the tree now called the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). By drilling holes into a maple’s trunk, one can release the sap and let it drip into a bucket. Done right, the process does not kill the trees; healthy maples can be tapped spring after spring. The ideal time to gather sap is late winter/early spring, when day temperatures are warmer than 32 degrees and night temperatures still dip below freezing.

Like any other raw food, maple sap may contain harmful bacteria. If you want to taste maple sap, boil it for a couple minutes to kill possible germs. To make maple syrup, try to get yourself into a sugar shack—an out-building with a safe place for boiling and a well-ventilated roof. When heated, maple sap loses water and creates a great deal of steam as it thickens. Cooked correctly, the result is pure maple syrup, the preferred substance of most waffles.

February 2016 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan
February 2016 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan

Mequon Nature Preserve hosts a free maple syrup demonstration on Saturday, February 27 beginning at 3 PM. Check out maples already tapped, help tap new ones, and visit a sugar shack. To register or for more information, contact Emily Biagi at 262-242-8055 or at The Preserve accepts donations to help build is its own sugar shack.

Visit Mequon Nature Preserve at 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097. Walking trails are open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year. Leashed dogs are welcome. Call us at 262-242-8055, look for us online at, and like us on Facebook for the latest news!

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