BRISTOL – Indian Rock Nature Preserve continued its 12th annual pancake breakfast and maple sugar demonstration fundraiser despite a wet morning.
“It’s kind of like a celebration of spring because things are starting to warm up and we know that because we’re extracting sap from trees and making maple syrup. It’s a great time for people to come here to Indian Rock Nature Preserve to enjoy delicious pancakes made by volunteers,” said Scott Heth, executive director of Connecticut Environmental Learning Centers.
In addition to the meal, visitors were able to see how maple syrup is made in the canning sugar shack as well as how Native Americans make it. Bacon and sausages were also served at the event, along with maple candies and cookies.
The reserve has exploited about 60 sugar maple trees. The sugar season begins around mid-February, the manager said, and lasts until the end of March over a period of about six weeks.
“We need to have freezing nights and thaw days, so below zero at night and a nice sunny 45 degrees during the day,” Heth said. “It creates a pressure gradient inside the tree that is higher than the atmospheric pressure outside the tree, so the sap actually comes out. Even if you drill a hole in the tree, if you don’t have these conditions, the sap will not come out.
The sap of a sugar maple tree contains about three percent sugar, and much of the sap is evaporated to create maple syrup by boiling.
“That’s about 40 gallons of sap to a gallon of syrup,” Heth said. “We have about 80 taps and I don’t like to put more than two taps in a tree. Each tap, traditionally during the season, will produce one liter of syrup. We will do up to 20 gallons.
The syrup from the can is mainly sold as a fundraiser. Profits are used to support education and environmental programs.
Mobile Maple One, as the sugar shack is called, produces all the syrup for the jam. Volunteer Bill Pastyrnak boiled sap in the cabin during the event.
“We boil that and our end product is 66% sugar,” Pastyrnak said. “Water boils at 212 degrees (Fahrenheit). The sap boils at 219 degrees. . . The boiling process can take eight to 10 hours. ”
The syrup will be filtered to separate the tree debris from the final product. Boiling it further from the syrup will produce maple sugar.
Leila Agoora, Preservation Volunteer Coordinator, said she thought the day was good and thanked the volunteers who came out to help with the event.
“All of our events can’t be what they are without them,” she said.
Jamie Fournier, a reserve volunteer but present as a patron at the breakfast, said she thought the event was a great opportunity for the community to support the reserve. She said she participated wherever she could and had volunteered for the reserve for about two years.
Kirsten Tomlinson, Director of Education at ELCCT, helped guests learn how to identify a sugar maple.
“We can use leaves during summer and fall, but this time of year we have to look at other things because they don’t have leaves, so we look at bark and buds and branches of the tree,” she said. “It has rough bark, and on a sugar maple, under the cracks, you can see it looks a little orange.”
Sugar maple leaves have five lobes and paired buds and are usually dark and pointed. Maples have opposite branching patterns.