An Amateur’s Guide to Maple Syrup
The glacial movements of my front yard and back deck seem to indicate that Spring is finally around the corner. This means that running front the house to the van and back to begin the de-icing process can become a savage, mind-numbing dream for another seven months.
Before the ice can break up and begin the life cycle of fishes everywhere, another phenomena takes place. Snow melt gets pumped into once semi-dormant trees through differential pressure due to daytime heating. Starches stored in the roots and lower trunks mix with the water and form the sugary sap. The xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees is collected, evaporated through boiling, and served as the world-renowned maple syrup.
Finding a suitable sugar bush is half the battle. They can be in deep woods, farm edges or as in my case, my front yard. You need to select trees that are mature, but not decrepit that receive large amounts of sunlight. Always ask for permission before you tap. Words to live by indeed. Next, grab a syrup making veteran and head on down to your local Canadian Tire or Home Hardware. They knew you were coming and have displays ready. Buckets, taps, hangers and boilers; they will sell you this and so much more.
Next, grab a fully charged (do not make the mistake I did disappointing three kids and one wife) drill and bit that matches your tap diameter. Hand operated augers are romantic, but we invent cool stuff, read power tools, for a reason. Drill into the sunny side of the tree about belt high. A fifty year-old tree can support up to three taps. Hole depth depends on the thickness of the bark. A half-inch of a wet drill bit is sufficient. Make sure you don’t ream the hole, as the tap will not make a tight seal once pounded in resulting in sap running down the tree as opposed to into your bucket!
Your kids or neighborhood kids will repeatedly tell you the sweetness level of your sap. You can’t stop these interested connoisseurs, so embrace this “free” service and move on.
You may get up to eleven liters per day so storage must be thought out. If a cool place cannot be found you can freeze the sap until you are ready to boil.
Traditionalists don’t like this, but if you are like me, you only boil at the very end of your collection period. The ratio of sap to syrup is about forty-to-one. You can spend thousands on a gorgeous wood powered evaporator, and they are awesome, or you can buy a propane driven turkey deep fryer. You will need at least two to three tanks for the latter to complete your project. Boil away for hours on end adding bucket after bucket of sweet nectar. It is a wonderful feeling when you add the last one. This is the tricky part. Watch the colour and bubble size closely. It is a colossal shame to waste all those work hours to this one moment. I like to finish on the stovetop. Don’t make the mistake of moving indoors too early, as you will “sugar” your cupboards, angering your spouse, and cause a deep cleaning that can last for days. Or so I have been told. The final stages can be indicated by two methods. The bubbles will become pinpoint sized and when dipped in, the syrup on the back of the spoon will run slowly and thick.
You may be shocked at your yield, but it is worth every ounce. Smooth, creamy, and buttery are words best used to describe this magical elixir. Try it in your coffee, over ice cream, and apple pie. Brilliant.
Don’t have the time, know-how or desire to make your own? No worries, Parry Sound has many retailers offering great Maple Syrup products for sale.
To see how the pros do it check out maple syrup festivals in our area including the Killbear Park Maple Syrup Festival.
Now wash and store your equipment in a dry place and get to work raking the yard!