For Dave Brown, the flavor of store-brand syrup can't quite match the taste of the untainted sap that flows out of maple trees.
"It's not as sweet, but it has a somewhat better flavor than Log Cabin," said the 62-year-old Long Point resident.
Mr. Brown and several other volunteers got a firsthand taste test of natural syrup as they joined Ranger Bill Offutt in tapping about 110 red maple trees and boiling the sap at Downs Memorial Park in Pasadena Sunday.
Tomorrow and Sunday, the public is invited to watch the making of maple syrup from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program will be repeated March 9 and 10.
Downs Park Ranger Offutt said he wants to help people understand the history of maple syrup production.
"I think it's nice for people to see how it's done," he said. "The Indians did it before us, and I don't think we should forget our heritage. This was our colonial heritage and an Indian heritage."
Ranger Offutt said Native Americans made maple syrup before the colonists knew what it was. The natives would cut a wedge in the bark of sugar and red maple trees and attach a twig to help direct the flow of the sap into a wooden bowl, he said.
They heated the sap to get rid of the water, then added it to their flour-based meals to make them more flavorful, he said.
Times have changed, but the basic process is still the same. The day after Valentine's Day, Ranger Offutt and the volunteers used a 7/16-inch hand brace to drill 3-inch-deep holes into the park's red maples. Ranger Offutt said a number of trees produce the sap for maple syrup, but sugar maples and red maples are the best.
They used old milk cartons to collect about 180 gallons of sap, then boiled it at 219 degrees in a stainless-steel evaporator built by Joe Vincent and his welding class at the Center for Applied Technology North in Glen Burnie.
Ranger Offutt said it takes about three hours to boil the sap until it coagulates.
Sugar maples have a sweeter resin than red maples, he said. The sap from sugar maples contains about 3 percent sugar; red maples' sap has about half that content.
That is why it takes about 75 gallons of red maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup and 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make the same amount, Ranger Offutt said.
Frank Vranish said volunteering reminded him of his childhood days in Rosemont, W.Va., where his family tapped the trees on their farm.
"I'd drink half of it before I even got back to the house," the 64-year-old Pasadena resident mused aloud. "It brings back old memories."
Ranger Offutt said he got the idea for the program after he watched a television program on maple syrup last year and learned the process from volunteers at the Oregon Ridge Nature Center in Hunt Valley. He said he hopes to tap trees again next year.
"It'll become annual if it's popular," he said. "It's a good way to get out and experience nature, and at the same time get something sweet for those pancakes."
For more information, call 222-6230.