Temperatures are rising in mid-Michigan, and crocus are blooming. Well, the crocus were blooming until we got six inches of snow yesterday. Regardless, nights are still cold, days are in the 40s, and the sap in the maple trees is running. That means it’s maple syrup time.
And in the small town of Shepherd, Michigan, the Sugar Bush is busy boiling up maple syrup. Last weekend was Michigan Maple Weekend, and the Shepherd Sugar Bush Co held an open house. I ventured by, joined a tour, and gobbled up some goodies (some came home with me, too.)
First, what the heck is a “sugar bush?” Wikipedia tells me it’s “a forest stand…exploited for maple syrup.” Err. It’s a gathering of many maple trees that creates a gathering of many people tapping said trees for maple syrup. And Shepherd has a lot of maple trees, so they tap those trees to make maple syrup. And for their upcoming maple syrup festival.
The tour started with an explanation of what sap is, and how it gets to be sap: the short answer is photosynthesis. The longer answer, geared mostly towards the kids in the group, involved science and I promptly forgot all of it. I did retain that most of the tapped liquid is actually water. And that, for about every ten gallons sap, you get one quart syrup.
The sap/water is collected and brought to the processing facility (aka sugar shack or Shepherd Sugar Bush Co.) There it is run through a reverse osmosis machine, and heated. The water evaporates, and what’s left is syrup. Here’s some bubbling and evaporating:
The syrup is filtered, bottled, processed in boiling water, dried, and labeled. The rough cut video below was shot at the Shepherd Sugar Bush, and shows the filtering and canning process. There is no official script, so no descriptions of what you’re seeing, but you can sometimes hear people talking about what they’re doing. I found it fascinating.
The open house offered free pancakes with maple syrup, maple-flavored soft serve ice cream, and plenty of activities for the kids. While I do enjoy coloring, I didn’t stick around long. Instead, I got a small maple syrup cookbook:
(Aside: Those horses look like Haflingers my parents raised. Or maybe the Belgians my dad talked about that helped plow the fields and haul maple syrup from the woods behind the fields to the house. Anyhoo.)
The Shepherd Sugar Bush Co. offered goodies galore. I stood at the counter and drooled in anticipation. Candies. Maple covered peanuts. Maple flavored sugar.
In the end I held myself back to a small pot of maple candies (all gone now,) maple cream/butter, and syrup.
The cool thing is that you can purchase this high quality, super-local produced maple syrup on Amazon. If you’re so inclined, please purchase and support a wonderful, all-volunteer maintained local product. (I am not associated with the Shepherd Sugar Bush. Below are affiliate links. If you purchase some maple syrup, I get a couple of pennies, and you get lots and lots of yummies.)
I loved visiting the sugar bush, and will definitely be back next spring when the sap is running again.