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Albany Maple Lovers Tap Sap

Sap is boiled at the Radix Center in Albany
Lucas Willard
Sap is boiled at the Radix Center in Albany

Maple syrup season is underway, as sap flows through taps on trees throughout the Northeast – including within the City of Albany.

Outside Arbor Hill Elementary School in Albany, there are two trees with a short length of blue tubing running from the trunk to a five-gallon pail. City resident Catherine McTague lifts the lid off one of the buckets.

“All right, let’s see how much we got…”

Catherine McTague collects maple sap outside the Arbor Hill Elementary School
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC
Catherine McTague collects maple sap outside the Arbor Hill Elementary School

The bucket is filled to the top with watery sap. McTague is volunteering with a program from the Radix Center in Albany’s South End. Carrying in her pails, she’s met by other volunteers gathering buckets for their rounds.

“Where did you get your sap?”

About seven volunteers are helping with the sap collection this spring.

“Oh yeah? We’re going up the street.”

The Radix Center is a non-profit that works to provide adults and children an understanding of the natural environment. Just east of Lincoln Park, you might have noticed its teen employees working in the gardens and the small army of chickens and ducks making solid work of organic food scraps.

“We’ve got a great team of volunteers that’s been going around collecting buckets of sap from a number of locations throughout the City of Albany…”

Scott Kellogg is the Radix Center’s Education Coordinator.

“There’s not much going on outside. I think, this year winter plus COVID, has made people really itchy for some to do outdoors, so this is just a really…it’s really the first sign of spring. When the sap starts to flow, before there’s any buds on the tree, before there’s any flower, we’ve got the maple sap running,” says Kellogg.

The small team of volunteers brings in fresh buckets of sap. They’re kept cool in a pile of snow under a tarp, where they will wait until it’s time for the syrup boil.

A couple days later, a metal evaporator atop a wood fire is pouring out steam. There are young kids running around and their parents keeping warm with cups of boiled sap – taken straight from a tap on the evaporator.

Alexis Bhagat is brewing an herbal tea bag in his cup of sap.

“The Radix Center does cider pressing every fall, and our family never misses that. We’ve come every year since our daughter was a baby. But they didn’t do it last year because of coronavirus,” says Bhagat.

So, for Bhagat, the sap boil was something to look forward to.

“That’s why we came because we missed the cider fest,” says Bhagat.

Lou Bitler also dropped by along with her husband Edward Hovey and 13-month-old son, Geo. They moved to the neighborhood last fall.

“I love the Radix Center, I love everything they do. I bring the compost down and I try to support the Radix Center, I follow them on Facebook. And I came down here to just meet other people in the community and expose my son to…never seen trees tapped before! So this is the first time,” says Bitler.

“Nope, never seen maple syrup boiled out before,” says Hovey. “You want something to say?”

“What do you think of the maple syrup? Are you excited to taste it?” I ask Geo.

“I think he liked the marshmallow the best,” says Hovey.

For sugar maple sap, it takes about 40 gallons to make one gallon of pancake-ready syrup.

As the sun is fading on this late afternoon in mid-March, Scott Kellogg is pleased with the first boil of the year.

“Probably going through about 80 gallons of sap so far. I’m hoping to get home before midnight tonight, so going well so far, yeah.”

While most of the sap is evaporated over the wood fire, it will be finished off in a smaller pot later on. I ask Kellogg who will get the first taste.

“Probably me when I like the pan when I finish it on the stove, but then, yeah, we’ll jar it up and we’ll be selling it at the South End Night Market this spring and summer, right here.”

For more information visit: https://radixcenter.org/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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