April 10, 2013 - If you take a drive down Bond Trail in Independence Township, some of the trees may catch your eye. Slow down and take a closer look, and you'll find two-gallon buckets full of clear sap hanging from the trunks of Sugar Maples.
From left Wally Niezguski, Mark Angelini, Dale Bond, Paul Angelini, and Trevor Newman boil sap. Photos by Mary Keck (click for larger version)
Dale Bond, who has lived in the area since the late 60s, has been harvesting the sap for years, and this season, "we've got more than we can handle," he said.
With the help of Trevor Newman, Wally Niezguski, brothers Mark and Paul Angelini, and several of his neighbors, Bond has 47 trees tapped and every one produces about two gallons each day.
Although the trees tapped along Bond Trail are Sugar Maples, Red and Silver Maples along with Box Elder trees about one foot in diameter can be tapped for sap too.
To draw the sweet liquid from the trees, a short metal spike is drilled into the trunk's sun-warmed South side. Next, plastic buckets, spaced about fifteen inches apart, are hung from the spike. Then, gravity does the rest.
Getting the most sap from the Sugar Maples is all about timing, according to Mark Angelini. "The trees will only run when the temperature is above freezing," he said. Once temperatures reach about 45 degrees at night, the tree will start to send the sap outward to its buds, and the season for tapping will end.
The Sugar Maples along Bond Trail have been tapped since early March, but with warmer weather on its way the window of time for drawing sap is coming to a close.
For now, sap drips as clear as water from the trees and "tastes reminiscent of cocoanut milk," Paul Angelini observed.
Between chopping wood and gathering buckets full of the sweet stuff, the tree tappers drank their harvest straight from glasses while sitting around a roaring fire atop which a large vat of sap bubbled and steamed.
Boiling the sap causes the water to evaporate and the sugar molecules to crystallize, which gives the syrup its brown color, Mark explained. To test if the syrup is ready, Bond said he dips a spoon in to judge its texture.
"It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup," Mark stated. But, the sap can be used for more than a pancake topping.
Paul likes to blend the syrup with brown sugar and drizzle it over popcorn while Niezguski adds yeast to brew a delicious maple beer. On the other hand, Mark prefers a drink called a Switchel made by mixing apple cider vinegar with the sap.
The Sugar Maple tappers on Bond Trail insist the sap's sweet flavor isn't the only reason to have a taste, though. "The roots of the trees reach minerals and nutrients in the soil," Niezguski noted. They say the freshly tapped sap is a good source of B vitamins too.
Whether they pour it over waffles or brew it into beer, the sap lovers on Bond Trail have tapped into an old tradition that's yielded sweet results.
Clarkston News reporter