Let us begin our maple-syrup making odyssey!
Last Sunday, we went over to our friend Eugene's place to help out with making maple syrup. To make maple syrup, you need sap from sugar maples. It is possible to make syrup from the sap of other maple tree varieties, but sugar maples are best.We live in eastern Ontario, but Quebec (the border of which lies 15 minutes from my house) is the world's largest producer of maple syrup.
Some people even make birch syrup, which is a different taste experience, since the sap comes from birch trees. I brought back a bottle of birch syrup from Alaska when I visited in 2003 and Gordon very much enjoyed it.
To get the sap out of a sugar maple, you need to tap it with a spile, the spigot inserted into the tree trunk. Traditionally spiles were metal, but now you can them in plastic too:
Eugene scolds me if I call it a spigot instead of a spile!
The spile is pounded into the tree, a bucket is hung from a hook attached to the spile, and the sap drips out into the bucket:
Drip, drip, drip...
Various things affect sap flow, including day and night temperatures. Some years are better than others for sap flow.
You can do two-for-one deal too, with two spiles and a length of tubing!
It's also possible to hang more than one bucket per tree:
Tree with burl? No problem; slap on a bucket!
Eugene and Gordon looking like true woodsmen. Beards are a necessity!
When the sap buckets are full, it's time to empty them into larger buckets and take them back to the sugar shack. Clean laundry detergent buckets work well for this task.
Some larger maple syrup operations have "pipelines" from the trees instead of buckets, which speeds up the whole process, but makes it less quaint.
Eugene and Gordon have full buckets of sap to take back to the truck.Those suckers are heavy when full. And the buckets weigh a lot too, har har har.
When Eugene is emptying a lot of buckets at once, he drives the tractor and wagon into the woods. This is a small sugar bush near the highway some houses; you can tap sugar maples anywhere. Around here, many people have just a few trees tapped on their property, to make maple syrup for themselves. Buckets hanging off maples are a common site around here in early spring.
Meanwhile, somebody has been busy making holes in trees. Pileated woodpecker, anyone?
All done for now!
A truckload of buckets.
And an actual conversation that took place between Gordon and Eugene when I wandered off into the woods...
Next up: turning sap into syrup!
And guess who, c. 1969? I scanned this from a crappy contact sheet. I think I must have my mother's negatives somewhere. Stay tuned.