A sappy tale: My backyard syrup adventure begins

Posted Mar 2nd, 2013 in Eating Niagara

A sappy tale: My backyard syrup adventure begins

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I woke up Tuesday morning to a sound I haven't heard for months. It was birds chirping. It sounded like spring. And I had a spring in my step all day as a result because I knew it meant the end of winter was nigh. I like to think I helped to usher in that gateway season to summer on Sunday morning when I rolled out of bed, threw on my favourite purple pom-pom tuque and headed to Wellandport to tap a towering silver maple with my friend Marlene. It's a sweet task I've been begging her to do since she told me about her backyard maple syrup adventures as we made homemade goat cream cheese in her rural kitchen last winter. For years, she and her family tapped their maples and made syrup. It seemed like the coolest DIY food endeavour ever. Too bad our schedules didn't think so. A vacation — hers, the lucky duck — kept it from happening last year. But this year, after sending her messages with Arnold Horschach-like eagerness asking if this could be the year we tap, Marlene made me a deal. She'd tap the tree if I emptied the pails while she was on holiday. Perhaps the easiest sell in history, even though it will mean driving half an hour out of my way each night after work for several days to do it. So, trading in pajama pants for sweat pants, slippers for boots and bed head for a wool hat, I hopped in my car at what felt like an ungodly hour for a childless woman on a Sunday. It was 7:50 a.m. But I fought the urge for a longer love-in with my pillow so I could partake in an activity synonymous with the waning of winter and welcoming of spring. Marlene, her husband Dean, with his drill and Lee Valley coffee mug, and I gathered around the vast trunk of the silver maple and started plotting tap placement.

Tapping a tree for maple syrup

The south side of the tree, made warm by late winter sun to help the sap flow, is perfect for spiles. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and the mercury falls below zero at night. The rising temperature during the day creates pressure in the tree causing the sap move from tree to tap to bucket.And it should only be one bucket per 12 inches of trunk diameter. ?OK, enough of the science lesson. On to the tapping. ? As the drill whirled, spitting out fresh, white wood shavings while it bored into the trunk, I got giddy. Those pale curls are a sign all is well with our tree. Had the wood shavings been dark, my maple syrup dreams would only become reality with a trip to the local sugar bush. The off colour of the wood can be a sign the tree is diseased.

drill for tapping trees

I love maple syrup. I could drink it straight from the bottle. So to be harvesting sap to make my own, well, this will trump my homemade cheese escapades and the pride I felt when I had my first forkful of home-fermented sauerkraut. Even my first batch of home preserves — pickled beans — that I made six years ago (and didn't lived to tell about it) don't compare to this. The amber liquid that is to come will be my brass ring in my food adventures even though silver maples don't produce sap with the high sugar content that the aptly named sugar maple does. I've read that the syrup of a silver is more like corn syrup, though Marlene and Dean vouch for the silver's maple-ness. I'll find out when we try our handiwork on pancakes at the end of the season. While it takes about 40 litres of sap from a sugar maple tree to produce one litre of syrup, it might take more from the silver maple. But we have a black maple — second only to the sugar maple in sap sweetness — that's giving up the goods, too. Tomorrow, we'll find just how good when we begin to boil.

maple tree

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