The Boil

The folks at South Hill Forest Products wrapped up our first maple syrup boil of the season recently. We use wood fires to reduce our maple sap to syrup, a rustic method that is as time- and labor-intensive as it is rewarding. During our boils, students work around the clock. Students continuously chop wood, add sap to the boiling pans, and tend to the fires until the boil is complete.

The boil has begun!

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Here's one student's account of our most recent boil:

By Ryan Price

Are you chopping?

Chop. Stir. Add Sap. Repeat.

Did you miss a piece of wood? Try to chop it again. It needs to be smaller.

Don’t stop pedaling the old air mattress pumps used as billows to blow air into the fires either. If the fires aren’t shooting flames out of their smoke stacks, they aren’t hot enough. Add more wood and more importantly add more air to the scorching wood. Singe the hair off your arms and hands as you wave old blue foam butt pads in front of the fire’s flames.

Taste the sap before you add it to the warming pan. You don’t want to ruin the batch. Also, don’t forget to check your boiling pan’s levels, too low and the sap could burn, too high and the sap won’t be boiling. Skim the foam off the top too. Don’t be afraid to taste it either.

Sip some coffee. Your shift doesn’t end till 3 a.m. and it’s only 10. Your speaker and phone died about two hours ago. Luckily, your head lamp light still works, even though the moon and fires light the forest. Your classmates hum campfires songs. Take a break for a second, drink some water. Chop wood while you wait for your relief to show up.

Go home that night. Fall asleep with ash smeared across your face. Smoke is your new deodorant of choice. Consider taking a shower, but don’t because you know you’ll cry once you wash away the dirt. Plus, in 8 hours after sitting through your classes, you’re going to be back in the sugar bush chopping wood and boiling more sap.

In teams of 4 or greater students worked 24/7 doing this. Students started boiling sap Monday, February 26 at 8 am and finished the outdoor portion of the boil Thursday afternoon. Working in a record time students boiled roughly 500 gallons of sap.

As the sap collected grew smaller and smaller so did the fires. The sap, which had turned into syrup, simmered in the pans and gained a higher and higher sugar concentration. Once they were sugary enough the pans were removed from the fire leaving behind a pile of burning ash with nothing to heat.

The boil has begun!

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What the Heck is Hickory Syrup?!

By Sam Castonguay

We’re so glad you asked!

Hickory syrup is yet another delicious, golden brown liquid that the forest was kind enough to grace us with. You can use it just as you would maple syrup: with pancakes, as a beverage sweetener, on vanilla ice cream, and much more! It has a beautifully smoky flavor, followed by toasty notes of molasses, honey, and grandma’s love.

Harvesting the characteristic shaggy bark of the shagbark hickory.

Unlike the more traditional maple syrup, hickory syrup made using just the bark of the shagbark hickory tree. There’s no tree-tapping or sap removal involved, but harvesting bark certainly does not make the process any easier for the tree. The shagbark hickory tree takes its name from the loose plates of bark that jut and curl outward from its trunk. Not a very original name, if you ask us. But you didn’t, so we’ll move on to reveal how we make our scrumptious hickory syrup:

Once enough bark is collected – measured in “toaster loads” by the South Hill Forest Products Hickory Squadron – it is taken indoors and thoroughly scrubbed to remove any not-so-tasty debris. The bark is then roasted to perfection in our state-of-the-art toasty box and steeped in boiling water to make a deep, earthy tea.

Next, the tea mixture is strained, returned to the heat, and mixed with enough sugar to power 30 rambunctious toddlers for weeks! The simmering process continues until the syrup is sweet, relatively thick, and reaches the magic number of 67 Brix on our refractometer (see some of our earlier blog posts to learn more about this device). All that’s left to do is pour it over your favorite breakfast dishes!

 Click the image to purchase our hickory syrup!

Click the image to purchase our hickory syrup!

But why stop there? Check out our recipe for Hickory Nut Fudge below.

Be warned, though; hickory nuts are a tough bunch to crack!

Hickory Nut Fudge

½ cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of milk

¼ cup of hickory syrup

2 cups of powdered sugar

½ cup of crushed hickory nuts (or walnuts)

Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the foil or paper extend over sides. Grease lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of the cracked nuts in the bottom of the pan. Melt the butter, brown sugar, syrup, and milk over low-med heat. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture turns to a caramel color and thickens slightly. Remove from the heat. Add the powdered sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Mixture will be quite thick now. Spread in the pan; cool on the counter top and then refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours). Remove foil/paper and cut into squares.

Welcome Back!

by Carley Newman


Gone are the days of pouring brown tinted corn syrup over your perfectly golden pancakes! Maple syrup season is upon us and our new team of student employees couldn’t be more excited to befriend Ithaca's generous Sugar Maple! 

On the first day of class we went to the Sugar Bush and listened to a story of Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe Original Man. He noticed that people of villages became careless and lazy as they sat beneath sugar maples catching thick, sweet syrup on their tongues, taking for granted the gifts of the world. He then took the responsibility of diluting the sap to make 40 gallons produce only 1 gallon of syrup. This lesson of responsibility and gratitude set a foundation for the months to come. 


In the beginning of the semester, we were gifted a few days that reached into the 40s, followed by nights dipping below freezing. These conditions are ideal for sap flow through the tree, out of the tap and into our collection buckets. 

The trees have provided nearly 9 barrels of delicately sweet sap. Student teams have been working in the lab and among the forest prepping the Sugar Bush. Buy more barrels. Check. Order more jars. Check. Rebuild fire pit. Soon to be check. At this rate we look forward to having our first boil of the season this Thursday, February 22nd!  

All of us are so excited to embark on this journey! We get sappy just thinking about it. Hopefully you'll be joining us weekly for more blog updates. Peace and gratitude my fellow forest folks! 

Spring Cleaning

Maple syrup season is officially over and that means that it's time to do some spring cleaning of the sugarbush.  A group of us headed out to the sugarbush last week to collect the buckets and taps from the trees since the sap had stopped flowing.  It was foggy and swampy but our intrepid crew collected the buckets and other equipment from our over 100 tapped trees.  After collecting the buckets, they had to be brought back to campus to be washed so they are clean and ready to go for next year's maple syrup season.

We also had to collect the large barrels that we had used to store all of the sap and clean those as well.  It was definitely an adventure to get all of the barrels out of the sugarbush, into a car, and then into the greenhouse where we could wash them.  It's important to wash all of the buckets and barrels as soon as possible so that bacteria or mold don't have the chance to grow and contaminate future maple syrup.  We are continuing to clean up the sugarbush and work on our other products for our open house on Sunday, April 23 from 9-3.

Spring Update!

Our working semester is already more than halfway over! Since the heavy mid-March snowfall, and hopefully the last of the frigid temperatures, we have not collected much more sap, but there is plenty to do!

Everyone was disappointed when our last sap boil resulted in some pretty nasty smelling liquid. After barely recovering from the exhaustion of the first boil, we started up on round two since the sap had been flowing nonstop. We began at 10 am and spent all day stoking the fire and chopping wood. At about 4 am, we finally came to the realization that the sap no longer tasted like sweet delight, but instead had a rather unpleasant odor. It was time to abandon ship and pour out the liquid gold our gracious sugarbush had provided. It was disappointing, but I think everyone was happy to go back to bed.

Now is the time to prepare for the arrival of the bees, continue to grow the oyster mushrooms, carve away wood for handcrafted utensils, and much much more. Even though it is a month away, we will also have to begin preparations for the open house! Non-Timber Forest Products, the class that runs the business, is very unique in that it allows each participating student to pursue their own forest product passion, while still learning a little about each of the other products we offer. Personally, I have enjoyed boiling sap immensely, but more than anything I am looking forward to keeping the bees. It is quite amazing to see how this type of project can highlight the unique passions and talents of so many individuals and pull them together to create something larger and really beautiful. Stay tuned for more information about the open house and wish us the best of luck! Spring is right around the corner!  

Finishing Touches - Indoor Boil

After the completion of our first outdoor boil, we then moved to an inside boil to refine the syrup to its final, sellable state. The inside boil process is quite simple, and much less time consuming then the outdoor boil. The process began with boiling the syrup in 4 large buckets on hot plates in our lab until we reached the right sugar content, which is around 67%. We measure this using a neat piece of equipment called a refractometer.


Once the syrup has the right sugar content, we filter it several times to ensure that there is nothing left in it except beautiful, delicious syrup! Next comes the bottling process, which I always find to be a very rewarding experience, as there is something fulfilling about seeing how much all the hard work we have put into this process pays off. We ended up bottling a little over 12 gallons from this boil! That is a record breaking amount of syrup for one boil, and I think its safe to say we all feel proud of all the work we put in. Our next boil starts soon, and we are looking forward to making even more syrup, so stay tuned for updates!

Our First Boil - A Reflection

The first boil is over, and with its conclusion, we made South Hill Forest Products history. The boil, which took 103 hours, was nearly twice as long as the previous record length boil.  Over the course of my shifts at the sugar bush, I learned about and practiced the jobs required to keep a maple syrup boil running. There was the wood chopping, the fire tending, the sap filtering and of course, the morale boosting.

The biggest lesson for me, however, was seeing the dedication of the students to this process. It takes a lot of care and a lot of consideration to boil sap down into maple syrup and those things were never lacking. Some spent hours upon hours at the boil and some even nights upon nights there. As the boil went on, the students got less sleep and more dirty, but they never stopped working to make that delicious maple syrup.

It’s hard visualize this level of dedication without seeing it for yourself – I certainly was not expecting it. When you try our maple syrup, appreciate its taste of course, but also consider the hard work put into it and it’ll taste even better.  Stay tuned for more information about the boiling process and the bottling of the first maple syrup of the season!

The First Boil!

We've started the first maple syrup boil of the year! Our students have been working hard to collect sap every single day from the sugar bush; with upwards of 400 gallons now, we’re ready to reduce it down to some delicious maple syrup.

Starting at 8 am this past Sunday, students have been out at the sugarbush boiling down the syrup. In order to get it ready, the sap has to be boiled from 2-4% sugar to about 66-68% sugar concentration in order for it to be sold. The sap boil starts out as an intense process of continuously boiling the sap.

Beginning as an outdoor boil over a woodfire, students are out in the middle of the sugarbush 24/7, working hard to watch the boil and chop wood for the fire. TAs and experienced students will spend a lot of their time coaching the rest of the students through the first boil, making sure everything is going smoothly. Once we've finished the outdoor boil, we’ll bring the boiled down sap into the lab for the finishing touches: a final bit of boiling and filtering to get the syrup sale ready. Stay tuned to hear more about the process and soon enough we’ll be bottling up our wonderful maple syrup, perfect for anything from pancakes and waffles to popcorn and granola!

Mushrooms: Delicious and Ecologically Important!

Mushrooms - arguably the most important organism to a healthy ecosystem yet easily overlooked. All I knew about mushrooms before reading Paul Stamets’ book "Mycelium Running" was that they were a great topping for pizzas and had a nice chewy texture in my omelets. However, mushrooms are much more important than just food for us. In fact, what we eat is not even the main part of the mushroom!

 Some oyster mushrooms grown by SHFP in past years!

Some oyster mushrooms grown by SHFP in past years!

A complex network of single cell width ‘roots’ underground called mycelium are the actual body of the mushroom. Mycelial mats, the entire network of one organism, can stretch for acres! The largest mushroom ever recorded measures 2,384 acres in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Mycelium excrete enzymes and acids to break down molecules from dead plants into smaller molecules they can absorb as food. These nutrients could not be processed by any other organism and they would be locked out of the ecosystem if it were not for fungi. Hence their title as ‘nature’s recyclers’.  Not only is mycelium how the mushroom feeds, but it is also crucial to nutrient transport in soil among plants, water filtration, soil remediation, soil structure and more!

So what about the fruiting body of the mushroom we all know and love? When conditions are right, mycelial cells start to clump together to form a baby mushroom that will grow and mature in a matter of days. Most mushrooms have a stem and cap with gills on the underside of the cap. However there are some mushrooms that grow in thin disks like Turkey Tail and others can look like a large clumped bouquet of popcorn like cauliflower mushrooms. Gills on the underside of the mushroom, the hymenium, house special structures called basidia which shoot out spores at a force 10,000 the times astronauts experience getting into orbit! Once the spores find a suitable environment they start to grow strands called hypha that will need to meet with another compatible hypha to fuse and create a new mycelial network.

That’s some basic information about mushrooms but we have only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for more about mushrooms in our later blogs and for more information on the mushrooms we at South Hill Forest Products are growing for sale!

Recipe for Maple Granola!

Interested in ways to use maple syrup aside from atop your morning pancakes? Why not try granola? This recipe has fewer ingredients, less sugar, and is cheaper than pretty much any granola you can find in a store.  We made and tested this and this recipe gets our approval!

Dry ingredients:

  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 275F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and stir to prevent them from separating. 

Granola ingredients.jpg

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly so that the dry ingredients are completely coated and all the ingredients are fairly uniformly distributed. 

Press the granola in an even layer on the baking sheet and place the sheet in the oven. Bake for one hour. After an hour, rotate the pan and turn the oven up to 300F. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. For less clumpy granola, stir gently a couple of times while the granola bakes. Remove the sheet from the oven and allow to cool completely before storing.

This recipe can easily be adapted depending on your preferences. Any kind of nut or seed can be used in place of the almonds, pecans, or sunflower seeds. You can add more coconut if you’d like, or leave it out completely. If you prefer sweeter granola, add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar to the dry ingredients.  

Carving Workshop!

This week, we at SHFP are learning how to carve so that we can bring you a whole new stock of handmade spoons, knives and other cutlery! On Monday, Jason Hamilton ran a carving refresher course for the Teaching Assistants so that all of the new student workers can be as safe and knowledgeable as possible regarding carving techniques. He outlined different cuts and grips all while discussing how carving should have a natural rhythm and flow.

Transitioning between cuts and grips should be a smooth process and by seeing a demonstration of the proper grips and positions, the TAs learned how to properly teach the new workers to be safe and professional while carving. This week, the students will learn the basic carving cuts first on soft pine wood and then progress from there.

Make sure to watch for our progress because we cannot wait to show you our new handmade cutlery!  

Welcome back to South Hill Forest Products!

Hello everyone!  We are the new students behind South Hill Forest Products for the 2017 season and we could not be more excited to continue the great work of our predecessors.  We started this season off with a bang because the warm spell at the end of January made conditions right for the sap to start flowing.  

After some introductions and a demonstration on how to tap trees, we got right to work tapping the trees in our sugar bush to begin the maple syrup season.  We finished our tapping and were rewarded when the warm temperatures of the following day brought a huge sap flow to fill up almost five barrels of goodness!  Once we get more sap, stay tuned for a post about our first boil.

The 2017 South Hill Forest Products Team after tapping our maple trees!


We are so thrilled for this season of South Hill Forest Products and we will keep you updated with what we are working on right here so stay tuned!

It's time for BEES!

Now that syrup season has calmed down, it's time for South Hill Forest Products to make more of their other amazing non-timber first products, such as: honey, soap, spoons, knifes, salves & a bunch of other goodies! 

BUT, since this blog post is titled " It's time for BEES", we are going to spend some time talking about the little critters.

The apiary, a bee yard where bee hives for honey bees are kept(try saying that 3 times over, WOWZA), at Ithaca College is in FULL FORCE. Students from the Non-Timber Forest Products class at Ithaca College will be planting perennials and wildflowers around the apiary in just TWO WEEKS! Planting perennials and wildflowers is important for pollinators to survive! So if you have a yard and/or garden please plant native flowers, perennials or wildlifowers! It makes your yard smell glorious, helps the bees (and other pollinators) & your yard will look beautiful!

MMMM Honey... Pooh bear isn't the only one who loves honey! Let's talk about how honey is made.

              Honey gets its start as flower nectar, which is collected by bees, naturally broken down into simple sugars and stored in honeycombs. The unique design of the honeycomb, coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place. The evaporation makes a thick, sweet liquid, which we all know as honey!

             The color and flavor of honey varies from hive to hive based on the type of flower nectar collected by the bees. For example, honey made from Orange Blossom nectar might be light in color, whereas honey from Avocado or Wildflowers might have a dark amber color. In the United States alone, there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced, each originating from a different floral source. HOW COOL IS THAT!

Soon enough, the South Hill Forest Products crew will be filling jars of honey to sell! Until than, keep up with our blog on the SHFP website & enjoy our other products! We have sweet maple syrup, handcrafted knives & spoons, and mushrooms that will soon be packaged for eating! 



A Brief History and Folklore of Syrup

As you stare into a rich-golden bottle of syrup, do you ever find yourself wondering, how on earth did someone figure out how to make syrup? It’s much like asking the question of who was the first person to discover milk was a consumable substance, and could be obtained by squeezing on the udders of a cow. I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point about the intensive process of making syrup - anywhere from 43 to 86 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So how might have anyone figured out to boil it down, let alone collect it in the first place?

Who figured it out to poke holes in maple trees and boil down what came out? The answer to that is: no one really knows! It is widely believed the Native Americans were the first to discover the beauty of syrup, and there is a plethora of folklore to support this belief. One story features a chipmunk that scratched away the bark to drink the sweet sap for a spring energy boost, and the Native Americans learned from the chipmunks to collect the sap. In another, a chieftain yanks his tomahawk out of a tree one warm day before heading off to hunt, and sap spilled out and collected in a container at the base of the tree. His wife, thinking this was water, took it home and cooked dinner in it. However, the boiling turned sap to maple syrup making the meal taste better than it ever had previously. And so syrup was discovered.

Which of these stories are true we may never know. But we do know that the early settlers of North America likely learned about maple syrup from the Natives. It became widely made when trade was halted by Britain in the 1800s. Sugar was previously shipped to the colonies, but without trade, they had no sugar canes and thus no sugar. So, they turned to maple syrup. Initially the syrup was boiled much further, until it became loaf-like, resembling common sugar. This had a significantly weaker maple flavor. The maple syrup gradings of A and B can be traced back to this time, when A was regarded as the superior syrup - because it most closely resembled the desired european sugar. B had a more distinct maple flavor and was more like the syrup we all love today. But as time progressed and the colonies later gained access to sugar again, B started to become regarded as the superior maple syrup. And today, grade B still refers to the more high quality, maple-tasting syrup!

History can be a doozy, but history regarding maple syrup is actually quite fascinating, and here at South Hill Forest Products we encourage you to read more about it. Google is a veritable treasure trove for this kind of stuff. Fun fact: maple syrup is the oldest industry in the United States. Who knew!

The early bird gets the syrup

Just four short weeks ago, the students of South Hill Forest Products held their very first maple sap boil of the season. Today, we might be starting our last sap boil until next year.

It's no secret that we've had an unusually warm winter in New York this year. The warming effects of El Niño has kept snow from falling but it also has contributed to an unexpectedly early sap flow. In order for sugary sap to be drawn up from a maple tree's roots to its branches, the temperature has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. These conditions happened so early in the year that the students of SHFP tapped trees on the very first day of class, January 27th. 

 Forrest and Joe tapping a maple tree

Forrest and Joe tapping a maple tree

Tapping trees so early is a bit of a gamble for maple sugarers. Drilled holes only stay viable for so long until they close up and no longer leak sap. Plenty of maple syrup producers chose not to tap their trees as early as we did. They believed the weather would turn cold again and another bout of good sap-flowing weather would occur closer to the usual start of the sap season. 

For us at South Hill Forest Products, our tap holes may not stay open long enough to take advantage of a second sap flow. However, we have been able to produce a sizable amount of maple syrup, making over ten gallons of syrup already, with more on the way!

 Beautiful bottles of Amber Rich syrup!

Beautiful bottles of Amber Rich syrup!

The weather has been especially strange this year but SHFP students know how to roll with the punches. As syrup production comes to a close, we are ramping up our oyster mushroom growing, our wood carving, our hickory syrup cooking, herbalism projects and much much more! 

2016: Sweet Sap and Fresh Faces

Like most things in life, the syrup season is something we can try our best to predict but when it comes down to it we have to be ready for anything Mother Nature throws at us. This year, we were greeted by an exceptionally early start to the sugaring season. Typically we start off the semester with our new crew of eager students with an introduction into Non-Timber Forest Products and build up their knowledge base and experience in other NTFPs before it is time to tap. This year, however, offered a new challenge: our first class of the semester was spent out in our Sugar Bush tapping our maples! 

Our 2016 group of workers rose to the challenge and tapped our 107 trees in record speed! The taps are in place, buckets are hooked up, and sap is flowing. This just goes to show that no matter how much we can try to prep in the classroom, the trees are our greatest teachers. With a little last minute preparation, lots of enthusiasm, and infinite gratitude for our Maples, the season is off to a great start. It looks like a boil is on our horizon within the next week or so! 

Keep an eye out, South Hill Forest Products is in for an exciting year. 

With gratitude, excitement, and anticipation, 
The SHFP 2016 Team

The Open House is Finally Here!

This Saturday from 9am - 2pm, South Hill Forest Products will be running its annual Open House at the Sugar Bush (located at the end of Rich Road off of Coddington)!

As usual, it will be a great time! We are going to have free pancakes, live music, face painting, bush tours, tree identification walks, wood splitting demonstrations, craft tables, and of course selling the wonderful products that we worked hard on making!

Check out some of our products:
Maple Syrup, Hickory Syrup, Soap, Salves, and Hand Carved utensils!

Syrup, Shrooms, and Spoons

We've been busy as bees here on South Hill over the past few weeks. As soon as our trees were tapped sap was flowing out like a river and before we knew it our first syrup boil of the season was upon us. The TAs showed the students the ropes of wood splitting, fire building, and sap boiling and 36 hours later we had our first 2.6 gallons of delicious Golden Delicate Maple Syrup. Fast forward just a few weeks and we are on hour 42 of our 3rd and biggest boil of the season thus far. It is incredible to see how much people can learn in such a short period of time when they are working out working in the field; the students are now running the show all by themselves!

Between sap collection, boils, and syrup bottling tending to our various other products have kept us more than busy. Soaps and salves are being made with our very own beeswax, our PoHu and Pink Oyster mushrooms are being harvested every single day, and a new line of products is being developed. What is the new line of products, you ask? Hand carved wooden utensils including spoons and knives carved by all of us over here at SHFP. Jason, the TAs, and the students alike are loving (maybe a little too much) learning how to whittle various things and care for carving knives. The lab is constantly covered in wood shavings no matter how often we sweep. Keep an eye out, these beautiful, hand-crafted utensils will be on the market soon. 

And don't forget, Saturday, April 18th is the date of the South Hill Forest Products Open House! There will be pancakes, live music, tours of the Sugar Bush, wood splitting demos, and lots of happy, maple-loving people enjoying the sunshine. You won't want to miss it! 
Stay on the look out for more information.

Peace, love, and syrup. 


Syrup Season is Upon Us!

On Wednesday, the new South Hill Forest Products team started tapping trees at the Sugar Bush! With our first day of warmth in Ithaca (35 Degrees!), We weren't sure that we would get sap immediately. But we are in luck, syrup season has begun!

The crew is working hard on reading up on maple syrup, cleaning buckets and tops, cutting brick, buying brand new stainless steel spouts, shoveling up the Sugar Bush, and so much more. We are so excited to start the season. Wish us luck on a productive year!

 Here's the new South Hill Forest Products team!

Here's the new South Hill Forest Products team!