It may not seem like it, but spring is on the way. A sure sign of that lies in the maple trees.
Area park districts, museums and forest preserves are gearing up to tap that sap, the delicious liquid that’s been rising up inside maple trees.
Maple sugaring was once an integral part of American life — the end product was the foremost sweetener until the end of the Civil War. Many believed sap energized the body after a long winter. To this day, sap can be used in place of water in certain recipes.
But the most common use of sap is in maple syrup.
Once it’s boiled down, 40 gallons of sap equals one gallon of maple syrup. Thankfully, modern-day technology has made the process of sap collection and evaporation easier.
Nonetheless, you can see how sap was collected back in the day at a number of events this month.
The Naper Settlement, Naperville’s outdoor living history museum, has held its Maple Sugaring Days event for nearly two decades. Sap may be the highlight of the event, but there are plenty of other activities to keep people entertained. This year’s event will be from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 8 and from 1-4 p.m. March 9.
The possibility of snow-covered ground isn’t an issue, according to museum educator Justin Stech.
“We will be able to tap the trees with or without snow on the ground,” he said. “What is more important is the temperature of the tree during the daytime, which is aided by adequate sunlight. Ideally, days near 40 degrees while nights near freezing will produce the most sap.”
Maple Sugaring Days will include demonstrations on tree tapping and how to boil sap down to make sweet maple syrup. Children can try a yoke and bucket, which is how water was gathered or sap might have been carried in the 1800s.
The Battlefield Balladeers will play 19th century music while visitors dance a reel, and there will be hands-on indoor activities for children, including a story time.
This year’s event will be better than ever, said museum educator Jessie Sekiya.
“Maple Sugaring Days is an exciting time for us because it is a beacon of the coming spring after a long, cold winter. This year’s Maple Sugaring Days will include information about Native American sugaring techniques, which is a new addition to our event.”
Naper Settlement is at 523 S. Webster St., Naperville. $8-$12. (630) 420-6010; Napersettlement.com.
Here are some other area events that celebrate the sap:
Sap Collectors of DuPage Forest Preserve: 4-5 p.m. March 7 at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center, 3609 Spring Road, Oak Brook. Ages 6 and up; under 14 with an adult. $3. (630) 850-8110; Dupageforest.org.
Sap’s Rising: 1:30-2:30 p.m. March 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 at River Trail Nature Center, Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook. Maple Syrup Celebration on March 23. (847) 824-8360; http://fpdcc.com/events.
Maple Tapping Pancake Picnic: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. March 8 or 15 at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle. Breakfast includes silver dollar pancakes with a side of bacon and samples of syrup. $18-$25. (630) 719-2468; mortonarb.org.
MapleFest: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. March 15 at the Red Oak Nature Center, located on Route 25 in North Aurora, one mile north of Route 56. (630) 897-1808; foxvalleyparkdistrict.org.
Sugar Bush Fair: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. March 15-16 at Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. (847) 985-2100; parkfun.com.
Maple Sugaring Days: 12-3 p.m. March 15-16 at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles. (630) 444-3190; Kaneforest.com.
Maple Syrup Festival: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 22-23 at North Park Village Nature Center, 5801 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago. Free. (312) 744-5472; Chicagoparkdistrict.com.