Essay: Maple Taps & Sugar Shacks

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’s experience as a professional writer spans more than 30 years. She frequently took the photos accompanying her “Green Talk” columns.
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February

Yellow, Autumn, 20x30, by Elizabeth G Fagan, digital art on lakemichigansleftcoast.com, from Lake Michigans Left Coast
Yellow, Autumn, 20×30, by Elizabeth G Fagan

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).

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

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.


Elizabeth Fagan, Lake Michigans Left Coast
Elizabeth Fagan, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast

Elizabeth G Fagan is a writer and artist who resides on Lake Michigan’s shoreline in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast.

Fagan attended The Hammonasset School, a private arts high school in Connecticut, where she began writing and taking photographs. She earned a BA in English at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). She has an MA in Linguistics with a specialization in teaching English as a second language (ESL) from UIC. Fagan later gained an associate degree in Web Development from DePaul University in Chicago.

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