We’re aspiring to be the Lewis and Clark of Pittsburgh exploration as we constantly search for and explore the less traveled paths to find new and interesting places. While we absolutely love our weekend trips to the museums and indoor play areas, it’s also fun to seek out the less frequented treasure trove experiences to take a chance on.

I have to say, it’s super cold outside in Pittsburgh right now. The idea of tromping around outside in the cold took a little talking into. Nonetheless, I’m so glad we did!

Last week we visited North Park’s Nature Center to learn about Maple syrup. Did you know that the winter months are the prime time for harvesting maple syrup? Yeah! We learned all kinds of interesting Maple tree facts.

pittsburgh maple festival
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Did You Know?

The tree begins producing sap in Fall. Much like animals gather food for the Winter, Maple trees make sap to survive the Winter months. During the bitter cold months of Winter, the sap stays in the roots of the Maple tree. When the temperatures begin to rise slightly during the days, the sap begins to travel up the trunk of tree and into the branches. However, when the temperature drops again at night the sap flows back down. This downward flowing of sap creates the unique opportunity to harvest the syrup… almost like catching rain from a downspout.  

pittsburgh maple festival
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Make Your Own Maple Syrup

If you have a Maple tree large enough in your backyard, you can try harvesting your OWN Maple syrup.

Harvesting Sap

You’ll Need:

  • A Large Maple Tree (at least 10 inches in diameter)
  • Large Nail
  • Hammer
  • Electric Drill with a 7/16 inch bit
  • Empty, cleaned milk jug
  • 5” long tube or thick, flexible straw
  1. Begin by drilling a hole approximately no further than 2 inches into the tree.
  2. In that small hole, insert a small (about 4 inches long) tube or thick flexible straw into the hole you’ve drilled.
  3. Gently hammer a nail into the tree directly above the hole you’ve drilled.
  4. Cut two small holes into your plastic jug. One used for hanging the milk jug on and the other to insert the tube to catch the Maple sap as it runs out.
  5. When the Maple sap comes out, it will look and taste a lot like water.

Processing Sap into Maple Syrup

You’ll Need

  • 1 Large Pan
  • 1 Medium Sauce Pan
  • 1 Small Sauce Pan
  • Oven
  1. Fill your large pan with the maple sap you collected. Bring to a boil.
  2. Once the sap starts to boil down to ¼ – ½ the depth of the pot, add more sap, but try to maintain the boil.
  3. If the sap is boiling over the edges of the pot, a drop of vegetable oil or butter wiped onto the edge of the pot will reduce this.
  4. The water in the sap will begin to evaporate. As the sap continues to boil down, transfer the sap to smaller pots.
  5. Continue to boil the sap until it takes on a consistency of syrup. One way to check for this is to dip a spoon into the sap / syrup – syrup will “stick” to the spoon as it runs off. It is important to watch the boiling sap very closely as it approaches syrup, since it is more likely to boil over at this point.

If you’re considering trying to make your own maple syrup, I found a great article with more detailed instructions you can read here.

Pittsburgh Maple Festival
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Pittsburgh’s Maple Festivals 2014

If you’re interested in learning more about the Maple syrup process or looking to score some awesome tasting maple products check out one of the Maple Festivals happening in and around Pittsburgh in the Month of March.

March 8th

  • How Sweet it Is – Maple Syrup Making Demonstrations, at North Park’s Latodami Nature Center; 10 am to 11:30 am & 12 pm to 1:30 pm Using “home style” methods, learn how to tap the trees, collect and boil down the sap, and make it table ready.  You will learn everything you need to know so you can make your own maple syrup at home


March 15th

  • Maple Syrup Making at Marshall Township’s Knob Hill Park, 11 am to 12:30 pm. Pre-register at 724-935-3090. Using “home style” methods, learn how to tap the trees, collect and boil down the sap, and make it table ready.  You will learn everything you need to know so you can make your own maple syrup at home


March 15 & 16h

  • Northwest PA Maple Festival : There are many members of the Northwest PA Maple Association covering five counties: Crawford, Erie, Warren, Venango, and Mercer. Visit each of each maple producers that are participating in the 2014 Tour & Taste Weekend. See the brochure for directions and information (more info)


March 22nd

  • Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve’s Maple Madness at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve; enjoy a walk through the history of maple sugaring and dive into a pancake breakfast! (more info)


March 29th

  • Succop Conservancy’s Maple Madness; annual event occurs rain or shine. Learn how people across the ages have incorporated maple products into their lives (more info)