Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
Do you guys remember Little House in the Big Woods? I probably read that a good dozen times growing up. And no matter how many times I read it, I always loved the sugaring off chapter where Laura’s whole family got together to boil down sap into jugs of maple syrup.

Since I grew up in California, my dream of doing an actual sugaring off in real life seemed impossible. Little did I know that I would someday relocate to Michigan where old school maple tapping is alive and well.
We met up with a few friends to go on the Maple Sugaring Walk conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Environmental Interpretive Center. This decades-long Dearborn tradition is a walk back in time to when Henry Ford’s family used to tap the sugar maples on their property (part of which now houses the EIC’s nature areas).
Our intrepid guides not only taught us how to spot animal tracks (like the tiny racooon prints above) but also how to spot sugar maples in a forest filled with other trees. The things to look for? The three “B’s”–branches, bark, and buds. The kiddos in our group also helpfully pointed out that blossoms, apples, and helicopters are other “words that start with ‘B'” that are associated with trees. No duh, right?
While you can tap a bunch of different kinds of trees, sugar maples have the sweetest sap (and thus, the sweetest syrup). To spot a maple, you look for branches that are situated directly opposite to each other and for buds growing at the very tips.
Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
At thirty-five degrees, it was positively balmy–perfect sugaring weather. We tromped across the pond, which had frozen solid for the first time in years, and cut a path through knee-deep snow to reach a sugar maple grove.
Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
Our guide showed us the ropes of old timey maple tapping which involves a spiel (very much like the one Katniss Everdeen uses in Catching Fire), a mallet, a hand crank drill, and a tin bucket. I could almost hear Ma and Pa telling Laura how to carefully drill through the bark and hammer the spiel in the tree’s “bellybutton.”
Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
We were surprised to find that sap was actually running since it has been ghoulishly cold here but run it did! We hung the pail onto the spiel and took turns tasting the sap. It tasted just like lightly sugared water. Also, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sugaring off is no joke.
Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
Tapping the trees is the first step in making maple syrup. Then comes collecting the buckets and finally, boiling all the sap down to the amber syrup. We feel lucky to live in one of the few places in the world where we can see the whole maple syrup process from start to finish using the same methods Laura’s family did in Little House in the Big Woods.
And boom: childhood dream achieved.
Sugaring Off in Dearborn Michigan | Maple Syrup Adventures #Michigan
(Don’t forget to put a lid on the pail to keep the critters and water out!) Have you ever done something old school like this? I remember an eighth grade field trip to Williamsburg and being astounded by hand dipped candles, horse shoe making, and wood stove cooking.
Finally, Warren is convinced he cannot look serious in the bright hat I crocheted for him. I say he’s wrong. Exhibit A:
Okay, so maybe he’s right–it is hard to take him seriously in a cap festooned with America’s favorite colors!
Looking for other winter adventures? This is how we roll at the Detroit Curling Club. Turns out, it actually does deserve to be an Olympic sport!
Detroit Curling Club
 And here’s what Belle Isle looks like on a Snow Day. Read more here.
Belle Isle Snow Day #Detroit

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