Every weekend, there's always something going on around Cedar Rapids, and this weekend marked a celebration of all things syrup, as in maple syrup, as the 32nd Annual Maple Syrup Festival was held at Indian Creek Nature Center. Not only was it delicious, but also completely educational.

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For example, do you have any clue how much maple tree sap it takes to make a gallon of maple syrup?  I didn't till this weekend, and now feel guilty over the amount I used to cover my pancakes.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup.  That's nuts.  The reason is that the sap contains mostly water.  So a big part of the syrup making process is simply boiling the sap to evaporate as much of the water as possible.  To put some perspective on this, Indian Creek has so far collected almost 300 gallons of sap so far this season (which is nearing its end).  Do the math, that not even enough to make 8 gallons of syrup. It's been a slow season to say the least, thanks to the weather.

Did you also know the sap hits the tap in the tree in the morning on it's way up the tree, as it comes from the roots?  If you knew this, you must have done well in science.  I had no clue the sap came from the roots.  The tap catches it in the morning as it travels up to the top of the tree to feed the branches.  However, even though we're taking some of it, we're not hurting the tree.  And the hole we punch in the tree to get the sap heels up. In other words, this is a non-harmful process for the tree. (That I kinda knew.)

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How about the taste?  Well, it's definitely not your store bought maple syrup, which is loaded with sugars.  This much more natural syrup is a bit thinner and darker than normal.  And while it is sweet, it's not quite as sweet as store bought.  As such, the taste is very different, although not in a bad way.  Of course the kids, who can be finicky, weren't the biggest fans.  I liked it though, and appreciated it much more as we learned more about it.  And considering the mass crowds that came out for the pancakes, sausage, and syrup, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who felt this way.

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Not only did this trip to Indian Creek give us yummy food to eat, as well as some knowledge of what went into the syrup making process, but it also gave us some insight into the history of syrup making.  In native days, they didn't have metal to tap the trees with, or even carve into the trees, so they used stones.  They boiled the sap using hot stones heated in the fire, then placed in the collected sap.  The stones would eventually transfer their heat causing the sap to boil, eventually getting it down to a syrup.  You can imagine how long that would take.  The "syrup" to them was more a source of food than a topping. By pioneer days, they would boil the sap in big kettles, which again would take quite a long time.

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Not a bad way to spend a family weekend morning: food for the body and the brain, while supporting another great resource in our community. (Forgot to mention there was also fantastic local music while we ate!)  Count us in for next year.