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