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Frozen In Time: St. John’s Maple Syrup [VIDEO]

COLLEGEVILLE — St. John’s University has been making maple syrup and spreading the sweet taste of springtime since the 1940s.

Each year around the end of March hundreds of volunteers get together for the Maple Syrup Festival and collect sap from maple trees. It’s a university tradition that started during World War Two in a time of sugar rationing.

Volunteers use the same process they have since the tradition began. A single hole is drilled into nearly 1,800 maple trees. Buckets and bags are attached to the trees to collect sap as it drains out. When the sap pools into the buckets it’s taken to the Sugar Shack and the cooking process begins.

Sarah Gainey is the environmental education coordinator at St. John’s University. She says. “You still have to drill the hole, you still have to collect the sap and cook it down. That hasn’t changed in decades.”

Native Americans are the original maple syrup pioneers. They used hatchets instead of drills to drain the sap.  Tim Kroll is the Outdoor University Director. He says the Native Americans used a stick to guide the sap into a bowl made of birch or bark.

Brother Walter Kieffer is a Maple Syrup Festival volunteer. He says, “the Native Americans were doing it, and that’s really how St. John’s found out about it.”

Hundreds of local elementary students take field trips out to the arboretum each year for an education on the process of collecting sap and cooking maple syrup. They are taken to the Sugar Shack and shown the difference between maple syrup and corn syrup. At the end of the field trip the students are given a sample of the sweet treat.

It’s a local delicacy because you won’t find it on store shelves. “We don’t sell it. We give it away. It’s one of the best and sweetest gifts there is in the world,” says Kieffer.

If you want to sample the syrup you’ll have to attend the festival. It’s served hot to the volunteers on ice cream. The last Maple Syrup Festival of the season is scheduled for Saturday, April 5th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Ashli Gerdes, WJON News

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