I’m embarrassed to say this, but, although I lived for 17 years in Ottawa, I have never EVER been to a Sugar Shack when the maple sap is flowing. John’s brother Steve lives next to Lanark County, self-described as the Maple Syrup Capital of Canada. I asked him the day we arrived if he knew anyone who had sugar maple trees and who was making syrup from them. He immediately called his friend Terry, and we went right over.
Every year, if the temperature is right (warmish during the day, cold at night), maple trees’ sap starts to flow. It’s a clear, watery liquid that tastes like slightly sweetened tap water. But once it has been boiled down, it becomes what has delighted many children, pancakes, and pioneers for generations: MAPLE SYRUP!!! In Lanark county and many other areas, it’s still being made in the old way. If the temperature changes and it either gets colder or warmer, the sap stops flowing. It was flowing when we were at Terry’s.
Terry taps about 20 trees. Each one will produce 3-4 litres of syrup, once it is boiled down to 1/4 of its volume (or less). If he wanted to do this as a full-time job, he’d tap more trees, but it suits him just fine as it is. He says the reason he makes syrup is because it’s too late for skiing and too early for gardening. It’s not a really engrossing process. Boring, actually. Lots of waiting around.
He has a sugar shack near the sugar bush. It isn’t heated except for the wood fire that will boil down the sap. He taps the trees, and hangs large white pails – one on each side of the tree. After that, it’s a question of keeping ahead of the sap overflowing the pails.
He has a huge metal waterproof vat that fits right over the open flame, and Terry fills it with the clear sap. He brings it to a boil over a hot fire, and his job then is to keep the fire hot (lots of wood used) and keep filling the vat until he wants to boil the syrup down to its finished consistency.
Once the sap is boiled down enough, he strains the syrupy liquid through clean terrycloth into a smaller pan, which he continues boiling and keeps an eye on until it is “right”. Each maker has a different “right”, but Terry prefers amber coloured syrup rather than light, like you mostly find in the stores. He told me that the light coloured syrup (called “premium”) is what the larger producers make. They use a reverse osmosis system, rather than boiling, and they can’t make amber syrup that way. I like it Terry’s way.
Did you notice that Terry gave me a jar of his syrup? That was a huge bonus. I’m looking forward to trying it when we get home. Terry’s wife Sharon told me there are many ways to use maple syrup in cooking, like over chicken, on oatmeal, and to replace cane sugar in anything.
I have a much greater understanding of the process now. It certainly is a bonus to this time of year! Too bad we can’t do this in Victoria – too warm out there. We’ll have to make sure we visit this time of year every year.
Tags: Maple syrup