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Ed Skarbek says maple syrup season is over, spring has arrived

March 16, 2012

Ed Skarbek shows members of Cub Scout Pack 245 and their families the first step in the process of making maple syrup. Step No. 1 involves tapping a maple tree. (Photo by Natalie Bruzda/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BELL TOWNSHIP — Ed Skarbek knows spring is here when he can't make maple syrup any longer.

And it's just about that time, he said last Saturday morning, while showing a group of Cub Scouts how the "real stuff" is made.

"It all depends on the weather," Skarbek said. "You’ve got to have the cold nights and the warm days."

Cold nights and warm days are perfect for making maple syrup, a Skarbek past-time that can be traced through the generations.

At the turn of the 20th century, within a three-mile radius of Skarbek's current camp in Bell Township, sugar camps began to spring up.

At these camps, people would make maple syrup, and it's where his dad first learned the process.

"We used to do it when we were kids," Skarbek said. "It's been passed down through the generations."

For Skarbek, making maple syrup is a pretty simple process that keeps him busy for a four-week period from mid-February to mid-March, when temperatures are ideal.

The process, Skarbek said, goes like this:
Drilling a hole in a maple tree is step No. 1.

Once the sap from the tree starts to run, Skarbek must have buckets ready to collect it, which is the second step.

During this time is a lot of waiting, because it takes about two to three days to fill a three- to five-gallon bucket.

But on the third step, the fun starts to happen. Skarbek takes the sap from the buckets and boils it down.

If kept on a good, hard boil with a strong fire, the sap will evaporate about 18 gallons every hour.

And 18 gallons of sap should translate in to a lot of syrup, right?

Wrong. It takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

But it doesn’t discourage Skarbek from his favorite spring-time hobby.
“It’s really good stuff, once you get it,” he said. “It keeps me busy and out of my recliner.”

His hobby, however, is approaching the end of the season.

According to Skarbek, sap goes back into the root system of the maple tree when there are freezing temperatures at night, and if the temperature rises to at least 30 degrees during the day, it’s perfect weather for sap.

But with warm evening temperatures and warm day temperatures, such as the temperatures this past week, the sap can’t drip from the trees.

“The tree will naturally start budding,” he said. “It will start getting leaves on it. And when that starts happening, the sap will quit running, it will quit dripping out of the trees, and that’s the end of the season then. The way the weather looks, this weekend could be the last.”

Skarbek tapped 50 maple trees this season.

He collected about 500 gallons of sap, which made 10 gallons of syrup.
Last Saturday morning, he predicted he gathered about three more gallons of syrup during his presentation to Cub Scout Pack 245, totaling about 13 gallons total for the season.

His syrup, he said, which differs from the “artificially corn syrup flavored” name- brand syrups, would cost “at least” $8 to $12 a quart if sold in stores.

But Skarbek, whom his children call “the Sap Man,” never sells his “real” syrup, and chooses to give it away instead.

“If anybody ever asks ‘Will you sell me any?’ I say, ‘No, I won’t.’ I’ll give it to you, but I won’t sell it to you,” Skarbek said. “It’s just fun doing it.”

After his presentation, he treated Cub Scout Pack 245 to a breakfast of pancakes and sausage, and gave each scout a pint of his syrup that he says tastes good on vanilla ice cream.

“It’s the real stuff,” he said.

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