A Westover family taps into a New England tradition – making maple syrup – and shares their efforts with the School community.
Westover Family Boils Down the Facts about Making Maple Syrup
Students, faculty, and staff who came to Westover's dining room for breakfast one morning during the final days of the winter term not only had a chance to sample homemade maple syrup, they also got a brief lesson in how to make the sweet treat.
On February 27 – which by happy coincidence was also National Pancake Day – mathematics teacher Kendra Galusha and her daughter Molly, a member of the Class of 2018, created a display of fresh maple syrup that Molly, Kendra, and Jeff Galusha, Westover's Director of Facilities, had made over the final days of February.
The Galushas set out several canning jars that contained clear maple sap, slightly cloudy sap that had been boiled for several hours, and then two kinds of syrup – one lighter colored and one darker colored. They invited members of the School community to sample the two types of syrup either from plastic spoons or drizzled on small pancakes that had been made by the kitchen crew that morning. While a stream of students, faculty and even members of the kitchen staff stopped at the table to taste the Galushas' handiwork, Kendra and Molly answered questions about the process of making maple syrup.
"My Dad made syrup several times growing up," Molly said. "When I showed interest in making syrup, he told me about the process he used when he made it in the past."
Two winters ago, when the Galusha family decided to try to make syrup, Molly said that they did some research to see if there were more modern and efficient ways to do it. As a result, Molly explained, "Though my dad always made the syrup over a fire and in a large pot, we decided that a wide but shallow boiling vessel is more efficient, because there is more surface area over which the sap can evaporate, shortening the boiling time slightly." When the family bought taps, they also decided to repurpose old five-gallon water containers for the sap collection, because the containers' thinner spouts would work best at reducing the number of insects and other material that might find its way into the tapped sap.
This year marked the second time the Galushas made syrup at Westover. Molly noted that her family had hoped to make syrup last year, but less-than-ideal weather conditions and other factors prevented them from doing so.
For this year's syrup making, Molly and Jeff did most of the sap collection with help from Molly's classmate, Olivia Sena, as well as volunteers from among the School's maintenance crew and from several other students, including Emma Juvan '19, Joyce Wang '21, and Shelly Chen '21. The Galushas tapped 17 maple trees, about half of them from a row of trees that stand alongside the stonewall on South Street; the rest of the tapped trees are near the maintenance barn in the woods close to Westover's pond. The Galushas collected almost 200 gallons of sap, Kendra Galusha said, and the family was able to boil down a little more than 100 gallons of the collected sap to make about 2.5 gallons of syrup.
Molly explained that the sap collected early in the process has a higher sugar content, approximately four percent, and so it has a slightly lower water content. The sap collected later has a lower sugar content of around two percent. When the earlier sap is boiled, it turns to syrup at a slightly faster rate because there is less water to boil off. As a result, the sugars in the sap don't carmelize as much, so the syrup is lighter in color and "lighter" in flavor – Kendra described it as having more of a buttery flavor.
The sap tapped later tends to make syrup that is darker in color and has a more complex flavor, which Kendra compared to molasses. The darker color and more intense flavor is partly caused by the later sap's higher water content – the sap takes longer to boil and so its sugars tend to carmelize. Another factor affecting the later syrup, Molly said, "is a higher presence of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that the tree stores in its sap. When the sugar content goes down, these ingredients increase in concentration, allowing for a darker color and a stronger maple flavor in the finished syrup."
During the preparation process, the sap is poured through a filter – Kendra said cheesecloth or even coffee filters can be used – to separate out impurities, such as the occasional insect, from the sap. Later, other impurities come to the surface during the boiling process in the form of a frothy foam, which can be skimmed from the boiling sap.
During the boiling process, Kendra explained, sap must be constantly added to the mixture. The additional sap is needed, Molly said, to ensure that the level of sap in the pans never gets too low. If that were to happen, the sap could be scorched or burned, ruining the syrup. So, more sap is added slowly but carefully, drop by drop. Otherwise, if sap were to be added too quickly, it could lower the temperature and stop the boiling process.
The Galushes boiled the sap over a three-day period in several stages and in several locations. First, they boiled the sap outside near the School's Powerhouse for about six hours, which drew a number of faculty and students to stop by and watch this part of the process. That evening, the Galushas brought the sap to their garage, where it was boiled for several more hours. The next day, it was boiled for another eight hours or so. The final round of boiling came on the third day, first for about four hours outside before the condensed sap was brought inside to the Galushas' kitchen stove for a final three hours or so of boiling.
"We make syrup because the process is both a lot of fun and very satisfying," Molly said. "Despite the hours and hours that go into tapping the trees, collecting the sap, and boiling it down, as soon as you taste the finished product all that work becomes worth it."