February marks the annual maple sugar harvest in New Jersey. We found 10 places where you can learn the sweet truth behind this local treat.
Maple sugaring has been around since Native Americans began taking sap from the trees. The activity has evolved throughout the centuries from shooting arrows at a tree to drilling a hole into the trunk with a spile, which is a small, wooden peg.
Sap has been collected in buckets that are hung from trees and with tubes that take sap to the location where it’s boiled until it becomes a syrup.
“For the most part it’s something that most people have outside of their backdoors in the northeast, as long as they have a maple tree,” said Rick Newman, owner of Breezie Maples Farm in Westford, NY and resident of Mahwah, NJ.
It’s been an annual tradition for more than three decades to tap maple trees at Breezie Maples Farm. Once the sap is boiled into syrup at the farm, it is stored in 40-gallon barrels, Newman said. But when boiling the syrup, he explained, it’s important for the temperature to be above the boiling point and for its sugar content to be at 66 percent.
“Over time it will spoil, and bacteria will grow inside,” Newman said, if the sugar content is below 66 percent. The syrup will crystalize if its sugar content is above 67 percent.
So why is maple sugaring fun for people of all ages?
“Learning where food comes from is an adventure,” said Pete Watson, executive director of Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville.
Students come to Howell Living History Farm every year for field trips. This year about 300 trees will be tapped from a sugar bush at the farm and the sap will be boiled into syrup.
“Lots of schools come out our program. Our program is just about full,” said Watson. “Maple sugaring is a great program because it’s full of science, technology, engineering and math. But it also has lots of history to it. We show the older methods and we compare them to the current methods so you can see how they’ve evolved.”
The farm also hosts maple sugaring events that are open to the public on Saturdays in the winter.
“Most people don’t know how maple syrup is made,” said Ruth Yablonsky, a park naturalist at Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside. “Everybody likes maple syrup or they think they do. Much of the syrup at breakfast places is corn syrup. Maple syrup has a very different flavor.”
Trailside also has programs for the public to learn about maple sugaring. A tree is tapped at the center in the beginning of February each year. The tree is untapped at the end of that month because the sap starts to taste less sweet, Yablonsky explained.
Want to learn how it's done? Here are 10 places where you can learn about maple sugar first-hand:
Maple Sugaring: Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave., Tenafly, NJ. Learn how to identify a maple tree, observe how sap is boiled down and learn the history of syrup making. Events are on Sundays in February at 12:30, 2, and 3:30 p.m., and March 3, 10, 17 and 24 at 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m. in the visitor center. For more information, click here.
Tap the Sugar Maples: Howell Living History Farm, 70 Woodens Lane, Lambertville, NJ. Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants can learn to tap maple trees in their backyards at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. And Maple Sugaring Saturdays, Feb. 23 and March 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Help collect sap in the woods, make maple syrup in the farmhouse and taste pancakes in the farmhouse kitchen. For more information, click here.
Sugar Shack Tour: Happy Day Farm, 106 Iron Ore Road, Manalapan, NJ. Saturdays, Feb. 9 and 16 and Sundays, Feb. 10 and 17. Participants take a tractor ride on the 130-acre farm and learn about what equipment is used to collect sap. For more information, click here.
The Journey of Sap to Syrup: Trailside Nature and Science Center, 452 New Providence Road, Mountainside, NJ. Event is Saturday, Feb. 16 and Monday, Feb. 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. both days. People will learn how maple syrup is made from the sap of a sugar maple tree. For more information, visit their website and click on “winter programs” on the left.
Maple Sugaring: Somerset County Park Commission Environmental Education Center, 190 Lord Stirling Road, Basking Ridge, NJ. Events are on Saturdays, Feb. 16 and 23, and March 2 and 9, at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. and on Sundays, Feb. 17 and 24, and March 3 and 10, at noon and 2 p.m. Participants will learn how trees are tapped and about past and present methods for collecting sap. For more information, click here.
Maple Sugaring Fest: Reeves Reed Arboretum, 165 Hobart Ave., Summit, NJ. Event is Saturday, Feb. 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. Learn how early settlers tapped maple trees and turned sap into maple syrup. For more information, click here.
Maple Sugar Brunch: The Watershed Institute, 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington, NJ. Event is Saturday, March 2, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees will learn about the history, folklore and science of maple sugaring. There will be a pancake breakfast to enjoy. Cost is $22 per adult and child over 13. $15 children under 13. For more information, click here.
Maple Sugaring: Van Vleck House & Gardens, 21 Van Vleck St. Montclair, NJ. Event is Saturday, March 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. Learn how to identify a sugar maple tree and how to turn sap into syrup. Cost $5 to $10. For more information, click here.
Maple Sugar Festival: Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, 247 Southern Blvd., Chatham, NJ. Event is Saturday, March 2, noon to 4 p.m. There will be tree-tapping demonstrations, maple cream making and tasting and games and crafts. For more information, click here.
Pancake Breakfast: Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, 324 Forest Drive South, Short Hills, NJ. Event is Sunday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to noon. Attendees will enjoy freshly made pancakes and learn how maple syrup is made. Cost is $12 for arboretum members and $16 for non-members. For more information, click here.