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Tink, tink, tink. That's the sound of sap dripping from a maple tree. Bright days along with brisk nights can make the trees come back to life.
Like the blood running through our veins, sugary water rises from the tree's roots and climbs the trunk to the branches and out to the buds. When the temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and falls below freezing at night, the sap goes up and down the tree. It is time to collect the maple sap for syrup.
A natural sugar factory is hidden within Stranahan Arboretum just off Sylvania Avenue in Toledo. The arboretum's program coordinator, Sandra Stutzenstein, says more than 1,000 people are expected to walk through the arboretum during the annual Maple Sugaring Festival this weekend.
Some trees create more sap than others do. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the best tree because it has the highest sugar content and the lowest amount of sugar sand, or suspended particles that do not cook down. To find a sugar maple, look for a "U" shape on the leaf between each point. A good tapping tree should have a 12-inch diameter trunk to survive the procedure.
Tapping a tree requires some special tools: a drill, a spile (a spout), a hammer, and a bucket to catch the sap. The tree gives the best sap on its sunny side. Drill the hold on an upward angle. When you see wet sawdust on your drill bit, that is a sign that you have hit the layer of the tree that contains the sap.
Once the spile is tapped into the place and the bucket is hooked on, the sap will easily flow into the bucket. Then, wait for that familiar "tink, tink, tink" of the flowing sap as it drips into the bucket.
Don't pour this watery sap on your pancakes yet. It takes about 45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Gallons and gallons of water need to be boiled off to get down to the syrup, so pick a well-ventilated area. A gas grill makes a good outdoor cooking stove.
Slowly boil the syrup for about 36 hours. The syrup is ready when you pick up the spoon, and the syrup comes off in sheets rather than drips. With a coffee filter or cheesecloth, strain the syrup into jars. The jars will need be sealed or frozen to keep the syrup from molding.
The fourth annual Stranahan Arboretum Maple Sugaring Festival takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the arboretum, 4131 Tantara Rd. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for children ages 12 and under, and $2 for seniors. Festival-goers are urged to use the Sylvania Avenue entrance to the arboretum. Additional parking will be available at Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park, and a free shuttle will run between the shopping mall and the arboretum. Information: 419-841-1007 or www.arboretum.utoledo.edu.