Although all trees have sap, not all tree sap can be used to make syrup. It all depends on the sugar content of the sap. The higher the sugar content, the easier it is to cook into syrup, and the sweeter the syrup will taste. Most types of maple trees including sugar, black, red, silver and boxelder (technically a maple tree) as well as walnut, birch, and sycamore are routinely tapped for syrup making throughout North America. However, sugar maples are the valued producers due to their sap’s higher concentrations of sugar and flavor enhancing minerals.
Although there are many legends on how maple syrup was first made, no one knows what tribe of indigenous people first discovered it. We do know that when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, the indigenous people they met had been making syrup and sugar from the maple tree sap for many generations.
Large volumes of sap are needed. It must be steadily boiled for hours to evaporate away the water thereby concentrating the sap into first a thick syrup and eventually into sugar. To accomplish this task these indigenous people would use hot rocks in dugout logs, early pioneers would use subsequently smaller cast iron kettles over open fires, and by the mid-1800s large metal evaporator pans in sugar shacks would be used. With sugar maple tree sap, it takes approximately forty gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Therefore, regardless of the technique you use to boil the sap, it is a labor-intensive process.
Why did the Chellberg family decide to add a sugar shack to their landscape and begin to produce maple syrup in the 1930s? Several reasons are hypothesized. The U.S. economy was still trying to recover from the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. Financial times were tough for many, and the Chellberg family was not an exception.
Their son-in-law and builder of many original Dune Acres’ homes, Alden Koch Studebaker, had some previous experience with tapping trees and the techniques used to produce syrup. There was a predominance of large diameter maple trees on the Chellberg Farm property. As is still evident today, the woods to the east and west of the farm contain numerous sugar maple trees. There was also a nearby demand for high quality pure maple syrup.
In the early 1900s, Chicago was considered the candy capital of the world. It would have been easy for the Chellberg family to load their maple syrup into freight cars of the newly built interurban electric train and send it to the Chicago markets. Their pure maple syrup would then probably be used to produce maple cream candies; a very popular turn-of-the-nineteenth century treat.
To learn more of the story, stop by the Chellberg Farm for Maple Sugar Time. Take a short and easy hike through the sugar bush to experience the many changes in the maple syrup making process.
At the end of the tour, stop into the Chellberg Farmhouse to receive a maple cream cookie or a taste of pure maple syrup, provided by the Friends of Indiana Dunes for your enjoyment.
The Friends of Indiana Dunes will be hosting a maple syrup snow cone booth just outside of the farmhouse kitchen. For a donation, you can experience this unusual and seasonal sweet taste of spring. Pure maple syrup, sugar candies, and cream will be available for purchase from Eastern National. Food vendors will be onsite offering maple themed cuisine. The Indiana Dunes National Park’s admission fee has been waived for this fun and educational event.
From Friends Of Indianadunes