Maple Sugaring Hints and Tips

Our two maple sugaring programs tomorrow are sure to be sweet! The first one is from 10 – 11 am, and the second from 2 – 3 pm. Toward the end of the program, after everyone’s had a taste of syrup on ice (along with a dill pickle), we hand out a sheet full of maple sugaring hints and tips. All the information we provide during the program (how to identify maples, the right type of tapping weather, how to drill the hole, hang your bucket, and much more) can be hard to remember, so this take-home reminder comes in handy.

If you can’t make it tomorrow you can still download our hints and tips here, to help you in tapping your own maple tree at home.

Download our Maple Sugaring Hints and Tips

Listen hard enough, and you might hear the sap running through the tree!

Listen hard enough, and you might hear the sap running through the tree!


Wild & Edible Watercress

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shows us what’s wild and edible in our area

One of my all time favorite wild greens is Watercress. I love the sweet, spicy flavor and the fresh tingle it leaves in my mouth. This plant is both edible and medicinal, acting as a blood tonic, a liver purifier and more.

Gathering watercress in winter

Gathering watercress in winter

So, why do I bring it up in the middle of winter? Because, if you are lucky enough, you may come across some in a spring near you. As you can see by the pictures, it isn’t unusual to find a patch sitting dormant in a pond, just waiting for the warmer weather. Watercress and the flowers of skunk cabbage can be found in the woods, when the rest of the world appears devoid of life. They will even survive beneath the ice.

Watercress should be eaten raw as it loses its piquant flavor when cooked. It is an ideal salad green or can be used as part of raw food dishes, or as a garnish.  It will keep indefinitely in fresh water in the fridge. Don’t keep it at room temperature, as it is likely to bolt and bloom.

Turnover with watercress

Turnover with watercress

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Watercress is the most nutrient dense food available.  This powerhouse food is a good source of potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.

Tostada with watercress

Tostada with watercress


Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at

Grandma Cramshaw’s Valentine’s Medicine

A grapevine forming half a heart

Grapevine forming half a heart

Every Valentine’s Day Walt went down to Trudie’s Drug Store in Suffern and bought Tessie a big heart shaped box of chocolate stuffed with various gooey, nutty, sugared innards. For a few days afterward we all pinched and poked the underbelly of the little chocolates seeking caramel or nut and avoiding coconut and strawberry, until the once paper-collared candies looked like the scattered fragments of a mistake. This Valentine’s Day was different. My mom Tessie was in the hospital as her thyroid had been acting up and they wanted her in for a day of observation. I did not know what a thyroid was. Walt told me it meant she was low in iron. This only confused me more. I tried to explain to Ricky Cramshaw that my mom was low in iron and he thought I was low in brains.

“Folks don’t got iron in them. If they did, magnets would stick to them.”

I told him it was her thyroid that wasn’t working right so he went off to ask his grandma what that meant. Old Grandma Lillian Cramshaw knew a lot of strange things. We figured if my mom’s thyroid needed to get some iron in it the old grandma would know how to get it in there.

Walt was taking Ricky and me to pick my mom up at the little Tuxedo Hospital on Valentine’s Day. He suggested I make her a card. The only thing I could think of for a card was a drawing of a heart but I also thought there should be some sort of iron in this heart, too. Walt went into Suffern and picked up her heart shaped box of gooey chocolates, and by the time he returned I had decorated the rim of my heart shaped card with staples, in keeping with her theme of needing some iron. I knew staples weren’t exactly iron but I figured the idea was similar.

Rick and I jumped into the Chevrolet and he pulled from his coat pocket a little jar of some gritty, smelly stuff. He said it smelled like Christmas and shoved in under my nose. He was right – it had the thick odor of Christmas trees. He said his grandmother made it to help Tessie get iron back into her blood. When we arrived at the Tuxedo Hospital up on the hill over the village, we found Tessie sitting in a vinyl chair by a window in the sun. She was smoking a cigarette. She was annoyed. She had that “I’m fed up with the world” face on. She told us she wanted some tea before leaving, then she got up and crossed over to the white Formica coffee table and stamped out her cigarette in a plaid, bean bag ash tray. The top of the little bean bag had a metal ash tray in it. When she pressed the cigarette into the tray the bean bag squashed to one side. Walt got her a cup of hot water but before he could put the tea bag in it Ricky gave him the little jar of pine stink. He said Tessie was supposed to drink it in hot water. Walt took out his knife and dug a dab of gritty pine goo out of the jar and stirred it into the hot water. It didn’t mix in well but the water did turn a muddy color and it offered up a thick aroma of pine sap. Walt handed the cup to Tessie. She stared down into the nasty drink and shook her head.

Walt said, “Ricky’s grandmother says it’s good for your iron-poor blood.”

“What’s in it?”

“Looks like pine tar.”

“Tar?” Ricky said, “You mean like road tar?”

“No, it’s a sticky sap kind of tar”

We all stared at the strong bitter sludge in her plastic cup. Walt said, “It’s good for patching a hole in your boat, too.”

Tessie looked at him and said, “A hole in my boat?”

He said, “Yup. Sip a little, it can’t hurt you.”

She raised the cup to her lips and took the tiniest sip. She told us it was bitter and could use sweetening. Then she got brave and took a big sip. Suddenly she coughed violently and out flew a chunk of pine tar. It shot across the coffee table and landed like a bullet in the metal top of the bean bag ash tray. We all stared at it and Ricky shouted, “Good shot, Tessie! Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Ed’s Corner

Looking for Maples in Cliffside Park

Quick. What state, city, town or geographic region do you immediately think of if someone (like me, right now) says to you “Maple Syrup”?

I’ll bet not many of you said “Cliffside Park, New Jersey”, four miles from the George Washington Bridge.
Maples through a glass, darkly

Maples through a glass, darkly

For the last three years we have been going out to libraries in the metro area to present our Maple Sugaring program. Some of the program is indoors, learning about the history of making maple syrup and the biology of maple trees. It’s interesting to learn about those kinds of things but the most important, critical part of the program is going outdoors and tapping a real maple tree. So, this means we have to scout out the library grounds before the library can even advertise the event. No maple, no program.

On one recent scouting mission to the Cliffside Park Public Library I met the animated, welcoming librarian who had contacted us and we both went outside looking. We first crossed the street in front of the library to a very tiny park, surrounded on all sides by roads, but beautiful. And trees we found!: Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Norway Maple. And we knew that the temperature was warm enough for the sap to be flowing/moving  inside at least the Silver Maple. How? Looking to the top of this tree we found two of the cutest squirrels, sitting most comfortably on different thin branches, ignoring us, leisurely licking and sucking the sap from places where they had chewed off the buds or where there may already have been a cut or wound. As we watched them we looked up beyond the tree tops and saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky! A better ‘sign’ one could not wish for.

The good news – yes, there are maple trees. the bad news – they are in a public park. And we want to stay away from political entanglements. Although the promise of maple syrup could sweeten any town council member’s heart – and palate.

So to the back of the library we went and found, on library property, a large Norway Maple. The Sugar Maple tree gives the sweetest sap (thus its name) but the Norway Maple will do just fine. This tree, located behind the library, also will keep the bucket on the tree away more from the public eye. We will arrange with the librarian’s help to designate some local families to keep an eye on the bucket, gather the sap, boil it down to syrup at home. Then at the end of Maple time when the sap stops dripping, to remove the spout from the tree, do nothing to the hole, it will heal by itself.


Winter weather shapes
In my winter outings I am consistently surprised by just looking at what’s in front of me. What seems like a lot of white snow, salt, and ice at first glance can provide just as rich a template for discovery as a green summer’s day.

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping on to her circus ball

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping onto her circus ball


This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball

This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball

Open House this Sunday

Join us at our open house this Sunday, February 15th. Stop by any time between 1 and 4 pm to speak with us about camp, go on a tour (we’ll be sure to visit the warm garden greenhouse for a respite from the cold), and to learn more about The Nature Place Day Camp.

Hiking in Harriman last summer

Hiking in Harriman last summer

Upcoming Camp Fairs in NYC

Come see us at one of our camp fairs in Manhattan and Brooklyn this coming weekend, February 7th and 8th!

On Saturday we’ll be at the Bank Street School, 610 West 112th Street in Manhattan, between Noon and 3 pm.

Saturday you can also come see us in Brooklyn, at PS 321’s Summer Camp Expo, between 2 and 5 pm. The address is 180 7th Avenue, between 1st and 2nd Streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

On Sunday you can find us again in Brooklyn, this time in Cobble Hill at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, 9 Bergen Street, between Boerum Place and Court Street, between Noon and 3 pm.