This blog comes from Cathy Entwhistle, Senior Parks Interpreter at Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
It’s that time of year again, when the sweet sounds of spring fill Bronte Creek Provincial Park: the singing of returning songbirds, the laughter of visitors strolling through the forest, and the plink! plink! plink! of sugar maple sap dripping into a maple bucket.
A visit to the Maple Syrup Festival will guide you through the complete history and process of making Canada’s favorite sweet syrup. With a few simple steps and tools, you can take that story home.
Here’s how to make your own delicious maple syrup:
This may seem obvious, but it’s the most important step: find a maple! Not just any maple will do. While you can make syrups from many types of trees, you need a sugar maple (Maple sugar) to make the maple syrup everyone knows and loves. Look closely at the leaves, seeds, and bark to identify the tree. And of course, make sure you have permission to touch the tree if it’s not on your property.
Just as humans need to be a certain age to donate blood, maples must be mature before the sap can be removed without harming the tree. Measure around the tree at approximately shoulder height (1.5 m). The tree must be larger than 10 inches in diameter to accommodate one tap, 18 inches for two taps, and 24 inches for three taps.
Keep an eye on the weather. Sap flow begins when daytime temperatures exceed 0°C and nighttime minimums still fall below.
Maple syrup season ends when the twig buds begin to open; any sap collected after this point will leave a bitter aftertaste.
Assemble your maple tool kit! You will need a drill, a pile of maple, a hammer and a bucket of sap.
Drill a 2- to 3-inch hole in the tree at waist height, tilting it up slightly to allow gravity to help with sap flow. Remove sawdust.
Insert the spile and tap it gently to make it fit perfectly. Don’t hit it; You should be able to remove the spile when the season is over so the tree can seal the hole.
Hang the sap bucket on the hook attached to the spile and let nature work its magic!
Check your bucket every day; Sap left in the bucket for several warm days can spoil. Store the sap in the refrigerator until you are ready to reduce it to syrup. Since sap has a relatively low concentration of sugar (at least compared to syrup!), you will need to collect quite a bit of sap: 40 liters of sap will be reduced to about 1 liter of syrup.
Remember to remove the spile with the back of your hammer once you are done collecting sap for the season.
Place the sap in a pot and boil until it reaches 103.8°C. This is a tricky business: if you boil more than 10 liters on your kitchen stove, the vapor from your sap could literally peel the wallpaper off the walls. While the syrup is still hot, strain it through a piece of clean cheesecloth to remove any natural sediment.
Pour your hard-earned syrup over the pancakes and enjoy! Alternatively, you can also store it in sterilized bottles or jars, but we think you deserve a sweet reward after all that hard work, right?