Inside the Sugar Shack

Inside the Sugar Shack

It's March, and the days are warming a bit- that means the sap is running! It's Maple Sugar Time. Maple sap begins to run when the daytime temperatures are above freezing, and the night temperatures drop below freezing.

Walking around the Chelberg Farm this time of year, one gets a sense of how things were in the 1930's, when the Chelberg's began gathering sap to make maple syrup to sell in Chicago. The woods were full of maple trees, and with a bit of hard work, the sap could be gathered, refined, and sold for a late winter profit.

Maple syrup is strictly a North American product. More specifically, it's naturally limited to the region east of the Mississippi River, north of the Ohio River, and into Canada.

The process has been modernized, but syrup making began with the native Americans. They placed hot rocks into wooden bowls filled with sap. The water boiled out and what remained was pure maple syrup. Today, in commercial syrup production, plastic pipes and stainless steel evaporators are used to gather and reduce the sap.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Chelberg Farm demonstrates the maple sugaring process each March during Maple Sugar Days. They explain and demonstrate how the native Americans refined the sap, as well as the more modern, 1930's methods.

The Sap is Running

Still using galvanized buckets hung from cast spiles, they gather sap from numerous sugar maple trees on the property. The sap is then transferred to the the original "sugar shack" where it is warmed over a wood-fired evaporator. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

An interesting thing to note is the glass jug hanging over the evaporator. Being March, it's rather cold outside, and in the sugar shack. Pouring hot maple syrup into a cold glass jug will cause the jug to shatter instantly. Heating the jug above the evaporator makes the glass warm enough to prevent it from breaking.

Unfortunately, they can't sell the syrup they produce, but it's certainly worth a trip to the national park to watch the process.

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