This week second grade students from the Lowell Area Schools visited the Wittenbach Wege Center to learn about the Michigan Sugar Bush. As days become warmer yet nights are still cool, sap in maple trees is tapped and used to make syrup and sugar. One stop taught students about the pioneer sugar bush, another about the Native American sugar bush, and a third demonstrated more about the process along with a craft.
Inside the center students were taught how old a maple tree should be before it’s tapped, how 40 gallons of sap makes only one gallon of syrup, and more. They were each given a “tree cookie” and were able to make a necklace, which included beads to represent the soil, water, and sun needed for maple trees to grow.
At the Pioneer sugar bush location there was discussion about why and how a tree is tapped in order to get sap to flow. Students learned that the hole should be drilled upward to help with the flow of sap out of the tree. Also, the south side of a tree is best to tap with a spile because the sap will be warmed by the sun and flow easier.
Once a bucket is hung from a spile it is covered to keep out rain and snow, which would lengthen the boiling process, which removes water from the sap. The cover also keep deer or other bush animals from lapping up a free treat. Students also learned that it was typically the kids in the pioneer days who would gather the buckets filled with sap and take it to where it was being boiled down into syrup.
As the water is boiled out of the sap, it become thicker. The liquid was also strained two times in order to remove any particles which may have gotten into during the boiling process. The second filter was made of wool.
Donuts were often made, fried in sap to cook them. Hot syrup would also be poured over snow to make a frozen treat. And pickles would be served as well! The dough above is ready to be cooked, making a yummy treat.
Syrup made early in the season is typically lighter in color.
At the Native American sugar bush the story of how a young boy discovered the sweet sap maple trees provide. The liquid would be put into hollowed out logs with the water being removed by placing hot stones into the sap. Stirring would continue until the water was removed leaving behind maple sugar pieces. Native Americans would eat up to 30 pounds of sugar each year. It’s often compared to honey as far as being used as a sweetener.
Students were able to take part in games Native Americans played, including sliding “snakes” along a track in the snow to see how far they could go. They also tried their hand at throwing a corn cob with a feather attached through a hoop made from sticks which was hanging from a tree branch.
The wigwam was also set up showing different aspects of Native American life and culture.
If this look into the history of how maple syrup was made in the past looks interesting, head to the Wittenbach Wege Center tomorrow between 9am-1pm to learn about the pioneer and Native American sugar bush. The living history stops will give visitors the opportunity to experience the sugar bush first-hand. The donuts alone are worth the visit! Come hungry and eat a pancake breakfast being served from 9am-noon. And save some time to head to SwissLane Farm between 11am-3pm to tour a modern sugar shack and take a hayride among maple trees to see how sap is being collected ($2/person for the tour and hayride).