Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First step on the road to sweet sticky goodness!

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.


  1. That looks fun! I'd want to stick my head in the buckets to see if there was any goat grain in them. Then I'd like to climb on that truck and jump on those nice bearded fellows to see if they had any peppermints. Gee... maple sugaring sounds fun! tee hee.

  2. My papa used to tap his trees and make maple syrup -sooooooooo good!

  3. A little jealous of your day. Normally we head to Monkland to do the sugaring off at my sister-in-laws but this year I had to miss it. WAHHH!

    Love the photos! Enjoy the maple syrup!

  4. We went to Temples last weekend and they have the new 'modern' set up where the sap goes through pipes to the main house. It is an amazing production. Looks like Gordon had a busy day while you were scampering in the woods. Great post with lots of info. I posted a new group from the Kitchener area (well, new to me) ..have a listen. Hugs, Deb=^..^=x5

  5. Anonymous8:04 pm

    Ah. . . your reward for the long, long winter!

  6. Great post, can't wait for the next installment.

  7. Fabulous post!
    I'm going to a sugar shack next week and this just puts me the mood!
    (love the shot with the speach bubbles! You are too much!)

  8. that was such an interesting know it sounds bloody stupid..but I had no idea that is where it somes from

  9. Oh yeah. Genuine maple syrup is far superior to the corn-syrup-and-artificial-maple-flavoring sop that passes for syrup in the supermarkets.

    I have two questions. First, do spiles harm the trees? Second, I associate birch with its root beery smell. Does birch syrup taste root beery?

  10. Anonymous9:52 am

    This is so cool!

  11. You going to be selling this?

    Put me down for a quart of Grade B. (More taste than Grade A!)

  12. Isobelle, I think you'd like a nice bowl of maple syrup. It would make you jump higher!

    Wanderingcat, LUCKY YOU!!!

    Paula, we nearly bought a farm in Monkland. Sorry you missed sugaring-off this year; hope you get some syrup anyway.

    Deb, those pipes must make it much, much faster. And the Madison Violet vid is GREAT!! Just bought the song on iTunes. They should give you a commission. :)

  13. Marylee, we need SOME kind of reward. I had the syrup that I bottled on oatmeal this morning. MMMMMMM!

    LBM, I'll try to get another one up tonight.

    Elisabeth, I need to go to a Quebec sugar shack sometime and have one of those pancake breakasts with syrup on EVERYTHING.

  14. John, not stupid at all! How would you know? They don't tap maples in the UK! :)

  15. Ahab, I think spiles are okay as long as you don't put in too many, but I have a question in to Eugene, who will know for sure!

    And birch syrup. As it happens, I have a tiny container in my fridge that Eugene made, so I tried some. Definitely a root beer aftertaste, but it also reminds me of molasses (and is dark like molasses!) It's reminding me of something else I can't quite put my finger on, too.

  16. CogDis, I wish I had time this week to do more sugaring off with Eugene. It was a blast. Hope I get to help every year!

    Jim, I will ask Eu if he has any left over tos ell. He doesn't make a huge amount, but I do know that most people don't want the "grade B" stuff, so you may get lucky. Stay tuned! The stuff I tried this morning was the best I've ever had.

  17. That is so funny that you just purchased it. I have always been told I read people well but Woah!
    I'll check out the one you suggested.
    Have a great day on the farm, Natalie

  18. Oh, JOY! This post made me so happy! The notion of Feral Knatolee tickles me and the promise of home-made maple syrup makes my salivary glands stand up and salute.

    Now, if you throw in some Pileated Woodpecker shots, I'll be ecstatic.

  19. LouLou, scroll to bottom of this post for pileateds:

  20. Ahab, I asked Eugene about the trees. It's okay for the tree if you don't go crazy with spiles, and you have to let the holes heal themselves (don't put anything over them!) So there ya go.


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