Only In Indiana: A Sap Story


You have only a few weeks for harvest. It takes hours to prepare. Most of us would give up and go buy it at the grocery store.

But fortunately, not everyone feels that way. And for one southern Indiana couple, a shared love for syrup brought them together.

"A little bit closer Rita. There you go. There," a teacher from Harmony School in Bloomington guides a student who is on her back, waiting for a drop of sugar maple tree sap to drop into her mouth from the tap.

The window of opportunity here is so small.

"It takes 40-50 gallons of water to make one gallon of syrup," Lora Lewis-Rudd tells those gathered around here in the sugar shack as the syrup is boiling.

The temperature outside has to be above freezing during the day...

"I want to try it," another student exclaims as she puts her mouth almost on top of the tap.

...and below it at night.

"The quicker you get it to go to syrup, the more clear they syrup will be," Lora continues explaining.

But when  mother nature cooperates, you get a sweet rhythmic reward.

"How does it taste?" I ask two taste testers who look to be about four years old.

"Good. Good," they tell me.

"What does it taste like?"

"Sugar," the one boy says while the other nods his head in agreement.

"Sugar water or what?"

"Yeah, sugar water," the one concludes.

"We go about an inch or inch and a quarter in, depending on how big the tree is and if it has a thicker bark," Lora Lewis-Rudd says as she rotates a hand-held drill in her hand, turning it only a couple of times before she stops and inserts the tap.

The drip starts almost immediately. She started tapping the 75 sugar maple trees in a grove on her parents' Brown County farm when she was little.

"What is that coming out?" one of the children asks her as she works in the sugar shack.

"Steam. We are evaporating all the water off so we can leave just the sugary part behind," she explains.

This process can take anywhere from 6-8 hours.

"Instead of, 'Is it soup yet?' you ask, 'Is it syrup yet?'" I interject.

"Yeah, is it syrup yet? I'll say to people we are getting close and they will say 'When is that going to be?' and I'll say three hours," Lewis-Rudd says. "'Three hours?' And I'll say cooking with syrup is different," Lewis-Rudd says.

Not to get sappy, but syrup brought Lora and her husband, Chris, together.

"He actually made syrup at his house before I met him," Lora says.

"I borrowed her old pan," Chris adds.

"We were acquainted, so I said take my pan," she concludes.   

So here they are in the sugar shack, sharing a love of the outdoors, a love of syrup and a love for each other. You can literally see the steam rolling out of here.

"It breaks up the cabin fever of winter and then we just love being out here. The birds and the spring and we love maple syrup. It's very good on pancakes," Lora explains.

Oh, and there is that. After all, if you have tasted it coming out of the tree, you have to try it on the table. These two are armed with anticipation and - oh, yeah - forks. After all, this is where all the patience pays off - in a big way.
Lora and Chris say their syrup is not for sale. In fact, they say they only share their syrup with people they love. And the lucky kids from Harmony School in Bloomington, who come here every year since their teacher just happens to be Lora's sister.