Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where maple sugar comes from

This weekend I decided that as a lifelong resident of Ontario, having lived under maple trees for pretty much the duration and being more than fond of pancakes, I needed to see for myself what maple syrup looks like when it's really new.

Any time this sort of urge descends upon me I hit up some friends to come along, and somehow even in the depths of summer Sio and I, alone of the group, freeze.  One time we had to talk each other out of buying silk shawls in some 19th century castle's gift shop because it was August for crying out loud.  Unseasonably cold and rainy, but August.

This time I was determined not to mess up.  The temperature was hovering just over the freezing point as I left the house and the sky threatened rain or worse, so I put wool/mohair socks inside my rubber boots, two layers on my legs plus a skirt, a giant wool sweater and scarf, and a wool hat with my raincoat. 

I was glad of the rubber boots.

(Sio begged off by the way, claiming to have too much laundry for gallivanting.  I bet she was warm.)

There are four kinds of maple trees.

I think the one in front of my current house is a sugar.  I grew up with two reds.  Mum didn't realize how big they'd grow when she planted them, and a subsequent owner of our house had to cut one down to save the other (and have natural light in the living room, and get any free time at all from raking leaves every autumn I expect.)

The idea is to tap the trees when the sap starts running in early spring, and catch said sap in something or other.  One of the more picturesque approaches is a pail.

The sap is quite clear and beautiful.

Also in evidence at the park I visited: the more modern method

which eliminates the risk of overflow and protects the sap from marauding raccoons. 

Either way, you have to boil it down.

This is the part that prevents sensible people from tapping the maple trees on their own lawns even if they aren't growing on the municipally-owned portion of same.  I mean, you've got to get the sap down to about a 40th of its original volume to get to syrup, which is a lot of steam, and I say this with confidence because the one guy I know who did once tap his own trees made his wife really, really mad when he boiled the sap in their kitchen.  She had to rehang all the wallpaper.  Hence the 'once'.

(the syrup was delicious though.)

You can get maple syrup in different grades depending on how much water has been boiled off the sap.  There's a brownish fluid that resembles syrup but pours like water, and there's something sweeter and  little denser that says With Real Maple Syrup on the label, meaning just a whiff probably, and there's high quality maple syrup from Quebec that is a rich lustrous brown and glugs out of the bottle or can, and there's my friend's syrup that took down the wallpaper, and then there is the sample they gave us on the trail. 

It only took about 113 seconds for this stuff to hit my bloodstream.  I'm amazed it was still liquid, there was so much sugar in that cup.

There was more of the same for sale in the Sugar Shack.

But my preference was for something with not much liquid left in it at all because

who can resist maple leaves made from maple sugar?


heklica said...

I know this will sound unbelievable to your Canadian ears, but I've never tried maple syrup! Thanks for this insightful post.

justmeandtwo said...

I love maple sugar candy! Yum! Each year a local town has a whole Maple Festival. Ice cream and waffles with dark, thick syrup. Mouth watering! Glad you enjoyed as well! =)

Kathleen Taylor said...

...once.... chuckle....