Leahy said park environmental educator Gary Wilford first had the idea of trying to make natural maple syrup.
“He knew we had enough trees, so we just started to do it on a small basis,” Leahy said. “We decided if we have enough trees, let’s do it.”
A 10-foot long evaporator is at the center of the process for Forest Glen. Situated in the center of the Sugar Bush, the device consists of two large rectangular stainless steel areas: a starting pan and a finishing pan. Clear sugar maple sap — also called sugar water — is poured into the starting pan where it is heated to more than 200 degrees.
As it is heated, moisture begins to evaporate from the sap, concentrating the sugar content and eventually leaving the caramel-colored finished product. As more moisture evaporates, the fluid moves through sectioned areas of first the starting pan and then the finishing pan, both of which are slightly tilted to move the most dense fluid to the end where a tap is used to drain it from the pan.
“As it boils, it gets more color in it,” Leahy said. “At the start of the season it’s lighter but by the end of the season it’s the darker syrup, full of body.”
It’s a process Leahy has been doing almost since the beginning of Forest Glen’s syrup-making days in the mid 1980s. Gauges on the evaporator show the temperature of the sap, but Leahy — given his experience — simply eyeballs the procedure as it goes.
“I just watch the sap myself,” he said. “Some people watch the temperature.”
Leahy keeps the large pans hot by feeding in wood from a nearby pile in the Sugar Bush. As fluid levels drop, gravity feeds more into the starting pan from a nearby tank in the rafters of the shed. A 200-gallon tank sitting outside the building stores extra sap until its time to cook.