Making maple syrup
|Making syrup since the 1980s|
Perusing this precious document reveals how many gallons of the delicious stuff they have made each year, when in the Spring the sap was flowing well and how long the season lasted. You can see the third week in March is usually the time when the conditions become right. It's a short season - usually just spanning three weeks, during which my cousin and several volunteers help my uncle to collect and boil the sap.
|Frozen maple sap|
At first the sap may be frozen like these giant ice cubes above, looking like an enormous gin and tonic. Each cube is actually the shape of the pail which hangs on the tree that has been tapped. My cousin can be seen in my video below drilling a hole in a tree where the sap immediately starts to flow. You can also see this second weekend of the season yielded sap which had not frozen and was easier to collect (apart that is from the deep melting snow which meant we sank to our thighs unexpectedly.)
The tell-tale signs that the season is ending can be the appearance of moths in the buckets or the sap starts to look yellow. For me collecting the sap from the trees seems like a little miracle with every lid you lift but by far the most frustrating job, which you will also see in the video, is the waiting around for 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. The fire under the syrup evaporator must be kept raging at all times and there are stories that some producers used to burn tyres in there to give the fire an extra boost just before the syrup looked ready. It is a slow start but once a lot of sap has evaporated then the syrup starts to flow and those little bottles get filled for the year ahead - for oatmeal, for pancakes and bacon and for ice cream.
Here is my video which you can compare to the second film from the Canadian Film Archive from the 40s. It is amazing how much has stayed the same.
Making maple syrup in the Laurentians, Quebec. from anne kostalas on Vimeo.
For many Quebeckers Spring is the time to go to the sugar shack - a commerical venture where farmers pour extra-boiled syrup onto the snow to make toffee, and you can eat a syrup-infused Sugaring Off meal. It is a celebration of Spring and that winter is behind us.