By: Ben Nash, Class of 2015
When most people think of maple syrup (sir-up, not seer-up), they don’t think of Virginia as one of its main producers. But in the Science Department, Mr. Mark Moran and his Environmental Science classes are breaking the mold, thanks to inspiration from sophomore Joseph Costello. One day, Joe asked Mr. Moran whether he had ever made maple syrup from scratch. He hadn’t – yet. But after consulting with JP’s Chef Courtney, he began to experiment with maple tree tapping.
First, at his own home, Mr. Moran stuck a spile, a spigot-like instrument designed to collect tree sap, into a sugar maple tree. Within 24 hours he had collected over a gallon from just one tree.
After his own successful attempt, Mr. Moran asked his students to bring in empty milk and juice jugs to collect the sap from trees behind the school. With the help of Mr. Moran and Mr. Czekaj, the students identified several strong maple trees, tapped them, and placed a jug underneath each. Then, nature began to do its part.
Sap is made when the roots of a tree collect water from the ground. When a sugar maple is tapped, this collected water flows out through the spile. This water and sap combination is full of sucrose and simple sugars. At first, the sap that is collected is clear and looks more like water than syrup. To get the consistency and color of syrup, it is boiled down to remove the water and enhance the sweet flavor.
It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to boil down and become just one single gallon of maple syrup. That one gallon of syrup can cost over $50! At JP, the science classes aren’t selling their syrup, but they are going to be holding a pancake-making contest to be judged by a few lucky teachers.
Just like with chocolate, there are different types of maple syrup with variances in flavor. The darker the syrup is, the stronger its flavor. The State of Vermont distinguishes four maple syrup grades, all made by the same process. In order from lightest to darkest, they are Fancy, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. With the help of Chef Courtney, Mr. Moran boiled down the seven gallons they got from their taps, and ended up with Grade B maple syrup – the darkest and most flavorful grade.
Mr. Moran’s science classes got to see for themselves how creative God was when He hid a delicious treat in the most unlikely of places – the trunks of maple trees. Mr. Moran plans to continue with this project on an annual basis, so get your pancake recipes ready!