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Taste of maple syrup is in the air

Gig Fulton stirs the syrup as Jon Barnhart adds a safety barrier to prepare for visitors. Photo by Chris Johnson
Gig Fulton stirs the syrup as Jon Barnhart adds a safety barrier to prepare for visitors. Photo by Chris Johnson

The sweet taste of fresh maple syrup is in the air.

At the community garden at Tenth and Webster Streets near the Rock River Center, Jon Barnhart and Gig Fulton have been cooking maple sap to reduce the naturally sweet treat into maple syrup.

"Making maple syrup is a new experience for an old man," said Fulton. "You learn something everyday and every batch is different."

Barnhart, an employee of the Oregon Park District, is in charge of the syrup-making operation.

Fulton said he also enjoys working with Barnhart and meeting the people who stop by to see how the syrup is made.

"When the syrup turns out it is very good, but it can be hard to not burn it," said Fulton. "There is a fine point between edible and burnt."

The cooking stove being used is enclosed in a shed to keep people a safe distance  away.

When Barnhart and Fulton are at the garden making syrup, the public is invited to stop in and ask questions about how the syrup is made.

A sign on the courthouse lawn and on Tenth Street at the community garden will inform the public that the syrup is being made.  Barnhart plans to be making syrup every day in February and early March.

"I love having people stop by with questions about syrup," he said.

This is the second year for Barnhart's syrup adventures.

When Barnhart decided to try his hand at making maple syrup, he knew the best way to begin was to seek out the valuable teachings that other syrup makers in the area could offer.

"There is a lot you need to know to make maple syrup," Barnhart said. "It is not just collecting sap and cooking it. Rob and Lynnette Hough, Todd Tucker, and Jack Kelley, all helped out."

Even with the help, Barnhart made some mistakes the first year, and is always looking for ways to get better.

Earlier this year, Barnhart was worried that the above average temperatures could reduce the amount of sap he collects from trees located around Oregon.

For sap to flow, a tree needs to warm up during the day and be freezing at night.

During the winter months, the south side of a tree is the warmest during the day so a tap is put into the tree on the south side underneath a branch.

Large quantities of sap need to be collected to make a small amount of syrup.

"I have collected 140 gallons of sap this year, but that only makes a few gallons of syrup," said Barnhart. "I keep detailed logs of the sap I collect."

The main tree Barnhart taps to collect sap is from sugar maples, but his syrup contains sap from other maple varieties.

"I think using a mixture gives a unique flavor," he said. "It is great knowing you made the syrup yourself. I think the flavor is great."

To sample the locally made maple syrup, a community breakfast will be held on April 28 from 7 a.m. to noon at the Oregon Coliseum.

"The park district and Kiwanis Club are sponsoring the breakfast," said Barnhart. "There will also be a natural resources fair at the Coliseum."

Local nature groups including Nachusa Grasslands, Byron Forest Preserve, and Taft Campus will be in attendance.  A variety of homemade foods will be for sale.

"We are also going to have a maple syrup contest," said Barnhart.

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