Maple Sugaring Festival offers a yummy mix of sweetness and wisdom

March 04, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Sunday promises to be a sweet day at the Hashawha Environmental Center in Westminster.

The ninth annual Maple Sugaring Festival will be there from noon to 5 p.m.

"The key to the maple sugar festival is that it's a sweet goodbye to winter, especially with the harsh winter we've had this year," said Loren Lustig, Hashawha's director.

No matter what the weather is Sunday, the festival will go on, Mr. Lustig said.

Dick Brown, "the Maple Sugar Man of Washington" and an expert on maple sugaring, will be there with maple syrup and syrup products. He'll talk with visitors and answer their questions.

"We'll have an introductory program at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the Iroquois Building," Mr. Lustig said. "We'll describe maple sugaring and its history and show a film.

"It would be great if people would come to the program first, then experience the rest of the festival activities."

Other activities will include craft sales, a visit from Smokey Bear, live entertainment and horse-drawn hay rides by the Maryland Horse and Mule Team Association.

Naturally, there will be taste tests of maple syrup products and food concessions, including ice cream or pancakes smothered in pure maple syrup.

Maple sugaring is an American tradition that goes back to Colonial days, when the first settlers watched Indians rip limbs off maple trees to get at the sap.

"It used to be called Indian molasses by the early pioneers," said Mr. Lustig. He explained that the early American settlers "were interested in learning how to make maple sugar as a way of freeing themselves from England," so they wouldn't need to import English sugar.

Later, the colonists refined their methods of tapping the sap from trees by using a spile, a hollow tube made from sumac or elderberry plants. "They'd drill a small hole in the south side of the tree and insert the spile," Mr. Lustig said. "It was a little slower than what the Indians did, but it had little impact on the health of the tree."

Still later, long tubes were inserted into the trees and connected to a nearby sugar shack, where a fire was kept going to warm the sap and keep it running. "That was an easier way of getting the sap to the collection point," Mr. Lustig said. "You want to do the boiling down -- to get the water out of the sap -- in the sugar shack or outside."

Boiling sap in your kitchen isn't recommended because "it leaves a sticky residue," he said.

If you've ever wondered why pure maple syrup is so expensive -- more than $30 a gallon for the real thing -- it's because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of edible syrup.

There are four grades of syrup: fancy, Grade A, Grade B and Grade C. "Fancy is from the earliest sap. It's clear and delicate," Mr. Lustig said. "Grade A is what most people like best and what you'll get at Hashawha.

"As the weather warms, you'll get a lower quality of syrup, Grades B and C. Grade C is used in commercial syrups, like Aunt Jemima and the other brands that have 1 percent real maple syrup in them."

Maple sugaring is done in March for the weather, not the season, Mr. Lustig said. "You need real cold nights and balmy days. Then you know it's coming," he said.

And then spring is not far behind.

Admission is free to the Maple Sugaring Festival. Hashawha is at 300 John Owings Road, north of Westminster.

Information: 848-9040.

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