Tapping Trunks with the Funks: The story of maple sirup
There is a long-standing family tradition of sirup making among the Funks of Funks Grove. No, that’s not a typo. Historically, according to Webster’s Dictionary, ‘sirup’ was the preferred spelling when referring to the product made by boiling sap. ‘Syrup’ with a ‘y’, however, was defined as the end product of adding sugar to fruit juice. Hazel Funk Holmes, owner of the land our sirup farm sits on back in the early 1900s, insisted on the “i” spelling – it’s another tradition that continues on for our family and farm.
We officially took over the farm in 1988. Since then, our nephew Sean and son Jonathan have joined us as partners, as well. We are proud to carry on the family tradition of sirup-making and are gearing up for our upcoming busy-season at the end of winter.
TAPPING FOR SAP
It is the freeze/thaw cycle in late winter that makes the sweet sap flow. Here in central Illinois, this cycle usually occurs in mid to late February and lasts until the middle of March. When temperatures drop below freezing the vessels in the tree constrict drawing up the sap from the roots like a straw. But the sap won’t begin to drip from the taps until the temperatures get into the 40’s, which creates pressure in the tree causing the sap to flow. So the amount of sap we get depends on how much freezing and thawing occurs during the roughly 6 week period the season lasts. Although the cycle also occurs in the fall, we don’t make sirup from this sap because it is not as sweet as the spring sap.
Maple trees are ready to be tapped when they are about 40 years old, or at least 14 inches in diameter. No more than two taps are placed in a single tree. Only a small portion of the tree’s sap is collected, and the tree naturally heals over in the places where holes were drilled so it can continue producing sap for us in the years to come.
THE SWEET STUFF
Pure maple sirup is the product of an evaporation process by which most of the water is removed from the sap collected from a maple tree. Sap is a clear liquid containing sugars and minerals that serve as a tree’s food. Depending on how sweet the sap is, it can take 35 to 50 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple sirup.
We tap the trees, collect sap, evaporate it and filter the sirup right here on our farm in the sugar house. You can get a detailed breakdown of this process on our website.
Visit our farm on historic Route 66 to buy some locally made sirup! We’ve even got some pancake mix you can take home with you.