Jacques ladles the syrup into the final boiling pan.

It’s Maple Syrup Time!

It’s that super sweet time of the year, when sap is transformed into maple syrup.

We’ve been making maple syrup at Glen Villa for many years now. My father-in-law tapped trees and the site of his old sugar camp is now an art installation in the woods.

 

On a snowy day in January, my husband and i snowshoed past Orin's Sugarbush. It is magical spot in winter, with tin maple leaves tinkling in the wind.
Orin’s Sugarbush is a magical spot in winter, when snow outlines pieces of rusted tin, suspended from surrounding trees to suggest the roof that once was there.

 

Making maple syrup takes time, particularly if you do it in the old-fashioned way as we do, using buckets instead of plastic lines. Tapping the trees and gathering the sap take time. Keeping the fire hot to reduce the volume of sap means constantly stoking it with wood previously cut, stacked and dried.

Weather conditions affect how much sap flows, and how quickly.  Perfect conditions require below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day. If it is a bit too cold, sap drips slowly; if it is just right, it runs freely and can fill a bucket in a few hours.

This year we boiled for the first time on the last day of February and stopped on April 5 — not because the sap had stopped but because we ran out of wood for the fire.

Every few years we end the season with a sugaring off. This year the weather was perfect for a party, sunny and warm enough on Easter weekend to enjoy being outside.

 

About 60 people gathered outside our sugar camp on a beautiful day.
About 60 people gathered outside our sugar camp on a beautiful day. The emblem on the side of the building is the Glen Villa logo, cut from a worn-out flag.

 

For the many children in the crowd, the favourite part of the day wasn’t the sausages, delicious as they were, or the salads and snacks that people brought.

 

Sausages were beautifully cooked on the grill, thanks to one of the guests.
Sausages were beautifully cooked on the grill, thanks to one of the guests.

 

What the children preferred was the tire, or sugar on snow, that came after.

To create the tire, syrup is boiled down to become thicker, almost like taffy. Jacques Gosselin, our master syrup maker, checks the consistency. Too thin and the syrup won’t congeal; too thick and it becomes tough and chewy.

 

Jacques ladles the syrup into the final boiling pan.
It takes a lot of wood to heat the boiling pan and boil the sap into syrup the old-fashioned way. Modern commercial operations most often use other heat sources.

 

Once it reaches the perfect temperature and the perfect consistency, Jacques pours it out onto the clean snow, packed into troughs made for the purpose.

 

Syrup quickly congeals.
Warm syrup quickly congeals when it touches the cold snow.

 

Parents and children grab sticks and wind it up, making maple lollipops.

 

Children line the trough to make their syrupy lollipops.
Children line the trough to make their syrupy lollipops.

 

Many factors affect the quality and quantity of the syrup — the soil in which the tree is growing is important, as is the skill of the syrup maker.  Generally it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. This year Jacques tapped 240 trees and hung 1500 buckets. Even though he had to stop earlier than usual, he made more — 170 gallons versus his average of 140 gallons.

As anyone who uses real maple syrup knows, the difference in taste between it and imitation syrups is night and day. Maple syrup is the perfect sweetener for almost everything. Try it on yoghurt for dessert, or in your morning coffee. Yummy.

If you want to know more about how maple syrup is made, read this blog post from 2015 or this one from 2013. It’s a fascinating process, and these posts give you a look into a tradition that has made Quebec the world’s leading producer of maple syrup.

  • david

    I’m envious! Our idea of cold in Britain is a cm of snow and temperatures of -1C. Soggy, damp cold and as for sap that makes sugar… what a joke! One of these days, if I’m lucky I’ll make it to Canada to experience the real thing

    • siteandinsight

      A British gardener envying a Canadian — that’s a switch! I give a talk about design lessons from British gardens and early in the talk make it clear that I’m won’t be talking about specific plants because most of them won’t grow in our climate.

      Hope you do make it to Canada one day. We could tap some birch trees as well as maples — not as much sap and the syrup isn’t as sweet but it is good even so.

  • Janet Davis

    Well… now I want maple syrup candy…. Thanks for this. Such a great Canadian pastime.

    • siteandinsight

      It’s is indeed a great Canadian pastime. Easy to overdose on the sweetness, though.

  • Always helped at Herring’s sugar bush earning my place at the trough!

    • siteandinsight

      Pigging out at the trough? Surely not.

  • Kris Peterson

    It looks like a lot of fun – cold, but fun!

    • siteandinsight

      It is incredibly fun. Making the syrup is hard work but with a freezer full, we never run short.

  • Jason

    Makes me miss Quebec. Oh for some buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup.

    • siteandinsight

      Yum!

  • dennee

    How interesting to read about and see this process! Thanks, Pat!

    • siteandinsight

      You are most welcome!

  • kathy welch

    Enjoyed reading and seeing the photos of maple syrup production after visiting the site last fall. The syrup is delicious or should I say “was”!

    • siteandinsight

      The tire, or sugar on snow, was delicious. The syrup lasts us for the entire year. Norman had some for breakfast this morning on his oatmeal. Really yummy.