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Article updated: 3/3/2013 10:29 PM

Maple syrup tastings part of Ryerson hikes

By Steve Zalusky

Visitors to the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods Sunday tapped into the knowledge of experts on sugar maples.

They also had a chance to savor the taste of real maple syrup, as opposed to the over-the-counter stuff, which substitutes high fructose corn syrup.

It was part of the Maple Syrup Hikes, which will be offered Saturdays and Sundays over the next two weekends.

Environmental Educator Mark Hurley gave a lecture inside the area's Welcome Center before taking a group out into the woods to demonstrate how maple syrup is produced.

Ryerson Woods is one of the few places where climate conditions allow maple syrup production.

This year, 10 to 15 trees will be tapped for their syrup at the facility, producing between 5 and 9 gallons of the sweet stuff.

As Hurley noted, it takes a lot to produce maple syrup. Illustrating at the end of the session with milk cartons hitched together, he said 40 gallons of sap will yield only 1 gallon of syrup.

Before the group ventured outside, Hurley handed out small samples of syrup, reminding his audience, "You're going to taste real syrup. This is going to taste different from Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth. That's made out of corn. This is made out of real trees here at Ryerson Woods."

One of the tasters, Noah Weiss, 7, of Mundelein said her preferred it to the store brands.

"It was delicious," said Noah's mother, Betsy. "I have had real maple syrup before, and I didn't think it was good. But that stuff was really sweet."

Following the lecture, the group trudged through the snow into the forest. At one chunk of an old tree, which had been cut open and reconnected with a hinge, Hurley showed a cross section of the tree, pointing out the areas where the sap flowed. Then the children in attendance got to drill a hole through a model section of tree before going to a tree where a spike had been pounded, and sap was flowing from the tree into a bucket hanging from it.

Hurley also literally hugged the trees to show how to determine which trees should be drilled.

At one point, he showed a dead shrew that had been found in one of the buckets, having paid the ultimate penalty for its thirst.

The visit ended with a demonstration of how the sap is cooked into maple syrup in what is called an evaporator, a contraption with wood burning on the bottom, after which some maple candy was handed out.

Noah found the candy so tasty, he asked his mom for seconds.

"No, that's too much sugar," she said.

For details on future Maple Syrup Hikes, visit the website at lcfpd.org.

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