Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mmmm, Maple--another Wilder connection

(photo by Rain Rannu,

One sample of Wisconsin pure maple syrup, and we were delightfully surprised! We knew that our usual "table syrup" was not real maple, but had no idea how good--and how much better for us--the real thing is. As one commenter on this blog said, it's like the difference between the sun and a florescent light bulb!

Our visit to Glenna Farms, between St. Croix Falls & Turtle Lake, taught us a lot about maple syrup. First, pure maple syrup is 100% natural and has no additives. Compare that with the ingredients of your usual table syrup.

Second, even though Glenna Farms is fewer than 100 miles from Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace, the modern maple syrup farmer has a much easier process than in Laura's day.

In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura describes the process as Pa explained it to her. Grandpa made wooden buckets and troughs out of cedar and white ash trees because those trees won't give the syrup a bad flavor. Pa tells her that when the weather warms in the spring, sap rises in the trees and Grandpa put a tap on each tree and hung a bucket on it. "The sap, you know, is the blood of a tree. It comes up from the roots, when warm weather begins in the spring, and it goes to the very tip of each branch and twig to make the green leaves grow."

(photo by jsorbius,

Pa goes on to tell how the sap drips into the buckets, and Grandpa goes out on his sled everyday to check them and gather the sap into a barrel on the sled. Then he hauls it to a big iron kettle in the woods,where he lights a bonfire under it, and lets it cook. Every few minutes, Grandpa skims the boiling sap's surface with a wooden ladle so that it doesn't cook too fast. Grandpa cooks the sap until it condenses into syrup. Obviously, this is a very labor intensive process!

Glenna Farms uses a less labor-intensive method, letting gravity do the work. Each tapped tree is connected to tubing that allows the sap to flow through the tube and into a holding tank where it is filtered. From there, it is transferred to a vat, where an evaporator boils it down more quickly than using traditional methods. Let Ashley's field trip experience show you the process.

Here's our photo of Glenna Farms' sugar bush. Look closely toward the lower part of the trees and you will see the tubing from one tree to the next. The green shed on the right, the sugar house, is the tubing's destination and the place where the sap is cooked down to become syrup.

The result is nothing like the stuff most of us buy in the stores. No wonder it was the main source of sweetener for Laura Ingalls' family. They did not have to buy sugar and sometimes traded maple syrup or maple sugar for other necessities. The family ate it on corn cereal, hasty pudding, pancakes, and other foods.

(photo by Robert V.

Here are a few fun facts about maple syrup:

-The Sugar Maple is Wisconsin's state tree.

-Maple Syrup Month runs from mid-March to mid-April in Wisconsin.

-Thirty to forty gallons of sap=1 gallon of syrup.

-Wisconsin is the 4th largest producer of maple syrup producer in the country.

Read more about maple syrup here, and pass the pancakes and French toast, please!