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Syrup Goes From Tree to Table at Maple Harvest Festival

by on March 21, 2015 11:37 AM

"Many times when you ask kids where syrup comes from, their answer is the store," says Laurie McLaughlin, a Penn State professor and coordinator of the Shaver's Creek Maple Harvest Festival this weekend.

While your standard Aunt Jemima syrup could be recreated with some standard grocery store items, like corn syrup and caramel color, the real deal doesn't come that easily.

Maple syrup's discovery dates back to colonial America. Native Americans first found that syrup could be made by removing sap from the sugar maple tree.

The intricate process to get some tasty, sweet, and natural maple syrup onto a stack of fluffy pancakes will be taught this weekend at the Maple Harvest Festival, taking place Saturday and Sunday.

The event marks the beginning of the maple syrup season and is the 32nd annual festival at Shaver's Creek. It dates back to 1984, when recreation and parks program instructors Corky Potter and Jerry Elliott decided to engage the general public.

"It was a question of how they can get kids outside and get people to learn a little more about their backyard and their natural history and surroundings," McLaughlin says. "It was one of the initial ideas and activities for school groups to come out and learn about sugar maples and how to actually make maple syrup from tree to table, learn a little about the process and where a product that many people love actually comes from."

From its conception, Shaver's Creek has always been a place that provides opportunities for students to engage in teaching and working with the public. McLaughlin says that delving into the world of maple sugaring was only natural as it's been done in central Pennsylvania for hundreds of years.

The festival will include five interpretive educational stations taught by Penn State students in McLaughlin's maple sugaring class. The first station is on cultural history, where they'll be met by costumed interpreters.

"The students will be acting as if they were living in the 1840's and making syrup in that time period," she says. "They'll tell a little about the history, how it was discovered by the Native Americans, and how they made syrup in the colonial time period."

The second station is on tree identification. You can extract sap from any tree, but syrup only comes from a sugar maple tree. The sugar content is higher in the sugar maple, making for a sweeter end product.

The third station is on tapping. Attendees will learn the process of drilling a hole in the tree properly, including how to put in a spile -- which is a small metal tube that allows the sap to flow out.

"We'll teach people how to do it the right way to ensure that you aren't hurting the tree," McLaughlin says.

The fourth station is collecting. There are a variety of different collecting methods for syrup, and this weekend you can see everything from the old method of using a milk jug to a tubing system that is used by most commercial syrup producers.

"Lastly, we then take the sap to the sugar shack and show how it's boiled down into syrup," McLaughlin says. "You put it in a big evaporator pan and using wood heat to allow the water to evaporate off. It starts off at about 98 percent water and two percent sugar, but boils down to about 60 percent water and 40 percent sugar."

And when you get through those five stations, you'll be able to quench that desperate urge for some pancakes with an all-you-can-eat breakfast occurring all day.

Shaver's Creek will also offer opportunities to learn about birds of prey and reptiles this weekend. The nature center houses injured animals and will allow attendees to touch the animals and find out more about hawks, eagles, and more.

There will be live music at the event all weekend. The Maple Harvest Festival starts at 10:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, running until about 3 p.m. 

Entry is free for children five and under. For nonmembers, it'll run $10 (ages 12+) or $6 (ages 6-11). Members enter at $5 and $3 for those respective age ranges. 


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Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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