GARRISON, N.D. (AP) - Soon, in North Dakota, the sap will start rising in the trees as they awaken from their long winter dormancy.
Chad Trautman plans to divert some of that sap - a sugary liquid that nourishes the tree and feeds the tender spring buds - and cook it down into pancake syrup.
Trautman is a relatively new superintendent at Fort Stevenson State Park at Garrison, and he’s not out to give Aunt Jemima a run for her money.
Instead, he’s looking for an opportunity to involve school kids and the public in a real-life science experiment. It will have the power to teach how trees get nutrition, the chemistry of sap caused by warm days and freezing nights and how reducing the sap by boiling concentrates the sugar.
Perhaps best of all, it will teach that the common box elder tree is a member of the maple family, the same family of trees more commonly tapped for that sweet liquid that tastes so very good on hot buttery pancakes and crispy waffles.
Trautman said he tried the experiment last year at Fort Stevenson, tapping a few of the box elders as a family project.
Three trees tapped for about six weeks produced a total of 45 gallons of sap that was reduced to three quarts of syrup, a ratio that’s due to the low sugar content in the sap of a box elder.
He says his family enjoyed the result.
“It’s not the syrup you’d get from a sugar maple; it has more of a honey, butterscotch flavor,” he told the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1NdDbRZ ). “We were very pleased.”
These were mature box elder trees, planted years ago in the park.
Trautman said he would start tapping the box elders in late February and expand the project to 16 trees, leaving the taps in the trees until early April. He plans to add an evaporator to his syrup-making equipment to reduce the reduction time.
School groups are welcome to the park to observe the tapping process. Trautman said three school groups are already on board and more are welcome.
The public can come anytime, of course, but folks are especially welcome at 10 a.m. April 11, when the park staff will conduct a demonstration, from tapping to syrup-making and talk about the history and techniques involved. As a bonus, the staff will even prepare pancakes to make box elder syrup sampling that much tastier.
Registration is required for that event, and anyone interested should call the park at 337-5576 to reserve a spot. Others, such as school groups, can call for a weekday demonstration, Trautman said.
The idea of tapping box elders for syrup isn’t new, but it is unusual in North Dakota.
In Canada, the box elder is referred to as the “Manitoba maple” and is the heart of a syrup-making industry there.
North Dakota’s State Forester, Larry Kotchman, got a kick out of hearing about Trautman’s plans. He conducted the same experiment when he was a kid, growing up in Pembina County, near Canada.
“We hauled gallons and gallons of sap. It was fun, but it didn’t really compare to sugar maple syrup,” Kotchman said.
Box elders are native in North Dakota, most commonly found along streams and rivers. Back in the day, they were frequently used as ornamental trees in farm and even town yards, often transplanted as native seedlings, Kotchman said.
Today, they’re not as popular, primarily because they have an awkward branch habit that’s not as corrective to pruning as some would like.
“There’s still a lot out there, but they fell out of favor to other superior species with a better form, like the green ash,” Kotchman said.
Trautman said a Garrison school teacher brought her class last spring, and, together, they planted 50 box elder saplings.
It’ll be decades before those trees are mature enough to produce sap for syrup.
“We’re adding those for the next generation,” Trautman said.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com
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