Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boiling it all down..

In yesterday's saga, we saw sap being collected from sugar maple trees. Today, it's boiling down the sap to make that nectar of the tree gods, maple syrup!

Here is our friend Eugene's wood-fired syrup evaporator:

And here's what fuels that baby:

Eugene had his wood-splitter outside the sugar shack, and nipped outside to prep some fuel:

As is always the case when Eugene and I get together, he immediately put me to work...

...while Gordon lounged about, and Abby the Border Collie kept an eye on the outside world:


Eugene's sugar shack, which doubles as a storage shed the rest of the year, has roof vents that open to let out smoke from the wood fire.

Eugene's nephew Billy kept a close eye on the thermometer!

The white tank is full of sap, which is fed into the evaporator. The black hose at the top leads to a bigger drum of sap. Eugene uses a sump pump to push the sap out of the big drum into this white tank. Gravity feeds the sap from the white tank into the evaporator.

Here's an aerial view of the evaporator:

The round thing sitting on top, on the left, is a funnel with filter that you use in the bottling process. It isn't attached to the evaporator, and you'll see it in use later.

The sap enters the evaporator on the right, then goes through a series of baffles as it boils down into syrup.

Can you see how the syrup gets darker in each section?

Eugene has a de-foaming agent he sprinkles in when the syrup gets too bubbly!

Now, I am about to introduce you to nirvana in a styrofoam cup. Have you ever had... syrup right out of the evaporator, not quite thickened to final consistency?

Oh. MY!!!!!!!!!

Eugene gave me some to try while I stood watch over the sap inflow valve. It made me very very very happy. In the end, I drank so much that I got a sugar buzz. Then I crashed from the sugar buzz and needed a nap. Luckily, Eugene's charming wife France brought us pizza at that point, which helped equalize my blood sugar.

 Right after Gordon showed me his syrup, I stole the cup and drank the rest. 

That blue drum behind him is full of sap.

Not long after this, I took off my jacket. It gets toasty warm in the sugar shack! Not to mention steamy: instant facial!

 There's Gordon...

 ...hard at work, supervising me.

And here is clear sap warming up...

...on its way to becoming maple syrup.

Getting darker!

More tomorrow, but here are some more oldies from 1969...

On the left is my Dad with me under his armpit, watching maple sap boil outside in big cauldrons over an open fire. On the right is me and my Mum.

Dad with a sap bucket, Mum with the horses.

Guess who, again? Why was I wearing a skirt to the sugar bush?

Sugar shack in the woods!


  1. Anonymous8:34 pm

    This is very interesting. Is any sugar added during the process or is it naturally so sweet?

  2. Hey Natalie, what an interesting process love the pics.
    Haven't things changed since you were young?
    It's really an amazing thing, I wonder who discovered it and how they discovered it. Was it one of those happy accidents or what.........
    Love Maple Syrup (the ridgey didgey stuff of course) I'm thinking pancakes, pancakes, pancakes.

    Yummy post, have a great weekend,

    Claire :)

  3. It sure is a lot of work. I will never again waste another drop.
    Thanks for introducing Nancy Beaudette. Love, love, love her.


  4. Merci de tout coeur!

    Oh, MY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes! I had hot syrup....You bring back so many good memories. Those trips and parties à la cabane à sucre. What fun we had!

    You explain the process so well. I won't add a word. Except to say that we learned it from our Natives. It was done long before Europeans arrived in North America. I hope you don't mind if I brag that Québec produces most of the world's supply of Maple Syrup.

    Where did you go with your parents, Knatolee? It looks so much like the places I visited in my youth. I wish I had my old pictures to share with you. Alas! I lost a box of them in one of my movings. I'm still crying... But it's so good to see yours. It proves that I didn't dream my Maple Syrup adventures. I was there too...

  5. That is so cool! I love the b&w photos too, connecting with your history and tradition:)

  6. What a great post.

    You'll probably be shocked to learn that I have never had maple syrup!

  7. Anonymous9:43 am

    Holy moly, that explains the price at the supermarket.
    That's a lot of work!

    Thanks for taking us along - nice to have "visited a sugar shack" on my list of vicarious experiences. :)

  8. Anonymous12:45 pm

    I want to try that sometime! I really want to sample the hot fresh syrup. Fabulous!

  9. I just got caught up on the makings of maple's so neat how it's made. I never knew exactly how it was done until now. you learn something new everyday...have a nice weekend! hugs, Jennifer

  10. H. i., no sugar added! It's all in the boiling down. The sap tastes quite innocuous.

    Claire, things sure have changed! And I'm pretty sure they didn't have the sap pipelines in 1969. I just made some French toast so I'd have an excuse for eating more syrup.

    Deb, I never really thought about the time and work that goes into it, even though I knew the whole process. When I actually got involved, I realized why it's so expensive!

  11. Claude, brag away! Quebec is the King of Maple Syrup (or is that queen?) :)

    I wish I could remember where those old photos were taken. We lived in Peterborough, ON at the time, so I suspect it was somewhere near there. I'm sorry you lost your pictures, Claude. I bet they were great!

  12. Lauren, I really enjoyed being involved in the whole process.

    LBM, I wish I could send you some to try!

    Marylee, you got to stay warm and snug at home, too. Although it got pretty hot in that sugar shack.

    CogDis, you could always go to Vermont if you wanted to stay in the US. Then I could nip over the border and visit. We're pretty close to VT.

    Jennifer, it's good to learn news things every day, isn't it? :)

  13. Doesn't all that boiling down of syrup make everything sticky?
    (I've always wondered that!)

  14. Elis, I've heard that if you try this in the house, it gets messy, but it didn't seem to be a problem in the well-insulated sugar shack!


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!