Maple Syrup Dreams

When I met recently with colleagues from the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists in Berlin, there was much talk about maple syrup. It may have been because we discovered the wonderful drink, firewater, or… well, no, the discussion about maple syrup definitely came from the firewater conversation.

It’s easy to take what we have for granted and I forgot how novel the notion is of harvesting sap from a tree and turning it into sweet syrup. Eastern Canadians share the annual spring tradition of pulling on our rubber boots, usually one of the first times we wear them after shedding the winter boots, and heading into the barren woods for a walk to the sugar shack.

Timing is everything with maple syrup production. The night temperatures must drop below freezing and temperatures during the day must be above freezing. The see-saw on the thermometre is what makes the sap in the tree begin to flow after its winter’s rest. Depending on the weather, the sap could run for many weeks.

Maple syrup facts and history

My most memorable spring maple syrup memory is from when I was about 12-years-old. I had a mouth full of braces — the big, heavy braces that felt and looked like railroad tracks. They came with the firm instructions: no gum and nothing sticky to eat.

I was at a sugar camp and when it was time for some maple candy, the owner of the camp passed the first, sticky, gooey piece to me. Of course I took it. Of course it hauled the cemented-braces right off my teeth. Of course my parents were upset and of course, I was at the orthodontist the very next day to have the cement reapplied. But of course, for maple candy, I would do it all over again in an instant.

These are photos from a couple of years ago when my son’s Cub group went the the maple sugar woods.

 Heading into the muddy woods

 The sap lines snaking through the bare tress

 A gentle tap into the tree

 Before producers used tap lines, they put buckets directly on to the trees. Some small producers still do, while others only do a few trees to demonstrate past practices.

 The evaporator. It’s not operating in this shot or it would be a room full of steam

Maple candy in the snow

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