When thinking of the winter season, we don’t typically imagine ourselves spending time outside for too long, but rather we crave the warmth and coziness of being indoors. For Steve Golobic of Great Falls-based Colvin Run Mill though, that’s when he spends the most time outside, extracting sap from maple trees on the property.
The method of collecting sap to create maple syrup and sugar has been done for centuries, connecting back to when Native Americans taught the process to early settlers of New England. And while the end result is sweet, tangy and delicious, there’s a lot that goes into creating maple syrup, as sap is made up of 98% water and it takes about 30 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of maple syrup.
In February, Golobic—who serves as head miller of the park—leads demonstrations on how to extract syrup and lectures about why it matters for local families and visitors alike at the Maple Syrup Boil Down. Plus, participants will have the chance to taste various combinations of maple syrup served over cornbread from Colvin Run Mill cornmeal.
Before the first of three events takes place on Sunday. Feb. 9, we chatted with Golobic about the behind-the-scenes details of the 300-year-old winter tradition. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What goes into the preparation for the event?
I have to get all the supplies ready, which are really just the spiles and buckets. Other than that, it’s building the sugaring arch, which is a large cinder block oven. At the Mill, we start tapping the (mostly silver maple) trees in January, but you really have to wait for the proper moment. We collect the sap on a daily basis and refrigerate it. Industrially, when you’re making syrup, you want to boil the sap as quickly as possible because the sugar breaks down the longer it’s in the air, so we run into the problem where we have to store it and make sure it works. We’ve always been lucky enough that the timeline works. While what we showcase wouldn’t be enough to make syrup, it’s enough to show how it works.
Take me through the process of extracting maple syrup from trees.
Due to our location being in the Mid-Atlantic, we don’t necessarily have a hard-packed soil winter like they do in New England where there’s a surplus of maple trees. There are going to be days where it’s below freezing at night and far above it, way warmer during the day. It’s a hit or miss process. It varies by day. One day you can get a gallon of syrup and one you can get nothing. It’s all based upon weather, there’s really no scientific answer.
Why do you think this event is special?
Well, a volunteer from New England started this event over 20 years ago because we had a lack of things going on in the winter. This isn’t something people typically do in Virginia, so it attracts a big crowd. In February, people have been inside all winter and want to do something with the community that’s unique, and I think people love this event because of that. We get some local people who come every year, then we get some who come from the Boston area too. The best part is that I have people who do it themselves in their own backyard, so I’ve been able to give them tips and also learn stuff from others that I can implement here.
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