Pat Ward collects sap from a sugar maple tree in rural Nortonville last week. Pat and his wife, Barb, make maple syrup as a hobby and share it with friends.
Barb Ward demonstrates how a sap collection bag works to the Harper family outside the sugar shack on the Wards’ land in rural Nortonville recently. Dad, John Harper is with Jez (10), Jack (7), John “J3” (12) and Grazie (3) (not pictured is mother Fara and Zara (13). Barb is a retired teacher from the Illinois School for the Deaf and loves to explain maple syrup facts to children who visit. The Wards usually host the Morgan County Audubon’s Young Explorer Club and others interested in a wild and sweet experience. More photos on
The Wards started cooking maple syrup with a pan stacked on bricks over a fire more than a decade ago. They relocated their evaporator to the other side of their house and built a foundation for a log cabin. They make little improvements every year. Barb said, “there’s no normal” in terms of production from year to year. Their yield has ranged from 7 to 30 gallons of syrup. Sometimes they have to boil down 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, sometimes the ratio is as high as 60 to one. They go through five or six truckloads of wood a year. After evaporating most of the water from the sap, the last part of evaporation is done on their kitchen stove, where Barb uses a hydrometer to 66%. For friends, the last test of the syrup is to pour over vanilla ice cream for a special treat. Barb Ward said their maple syrup run ends when the chorus frogs begin to sing.