questions & answers
1) What is the history of syrup production in Ontario?
When the European settlers came to Canada about 300 years ago, they found that the aboriginal people were making a crude, dark sugar from the sap of maple trees. The aboriginals cut a slanting gash in the maple tree, put a chip of wood in the bark below the gash and collected the sap from these wounds in buckets made of birch bark. The next step was to boil the sap to evaporate the water until the sugar was made. This was done by filling a hollowed-out basswood log with maple sap and throwing in hot stones. This was the first method of evaporating maple sap. Maple sugar was the first kind of sugar produced in eastern North America. It was the standard sweetener used until approximately 1875, when cane sugar first became available.
2) How did the European settlers make maple sugar and maple syrup?
They bored holes in trees with augers and used wooden spiles and wooden buckets to collect the sap. Initially, they boiled the sap in iron kettles and later, a flat bottomed pan was used. The flue type evaporator came into use in the early 1900’s. It had deep corrugations in the bottom of the pan, allowing the fire to make a large area of contact with the pan, and thus boiling the sap more quickly.
3) When does the maple syrup season start?
We start working in the bush in January repairing winter damage and stringing out the 10 miles of plastic tubing that joins the 2600 spiles to the larger main lines. Tapping begins when a change in the weather indicates warmer temperatures. Temperatures must rise above freezing for a few days in order to bring about the changes inside the maple trees which triggers sap flow and there must be frost at night. Ideal temperatures for sap flow are +5°C daytime temperatures and -5°C at night.
4) How long does the season last?
The season generally lasts 6 weeks from late February through early April in our area.
5) Do you only tap the sugar maple?
Both the sugar maple and black maple (hard maples) have an average sap sweetness of 2-3%, which is sufficient for commercial production of syrup.
6) How long does it take for sugar maple trees to reach a tapable size?
The average maple tree is not tapped until it is 40 years old. Once established, sugar maple trees may live for over 200 years if growing conditions are favourable. If properly cared for and tapped, they can yield sap over many generations.
7) Will the removal of sap be harmful to the tree?
The removal of sap from a tree will not harm it, provided that proper tapping guidelines are followed. This includes avoiding the tapping of small trees and controlling the number of taps per tree. Fewer tap should be used if the trees are under stress (i.e. insect problems, ice storm damage, drought etc.)
8) How are trees tapped?
A gas, electric or battery powered tapper is used. The trees are tapped at a convenient height above the ground. Holes are bored into the tree to a depth of 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches) just inside the bark. Immediately, after boring the tap hole, a metal or plastic spile is inserted in the tree and gently tamped in until it is secure. Metal spiles normally have a hook on them on which a bucket may be hung. Plastic spiles may be connected to plastic tubing which leads towards sap storage tanks.
9) Is there a guide to the number of taps recommended per tree?
Yes, the number of taps recommended depends on the health of the tree and its diameter at 1.3 metres (4.5 feet) above the ground. In a healthy sugar bush, zero to three taps per tree is recommended depending on the diameter of the tree.
10) How many litres of sap does it take to make a litre of syrup?
It takes approximately 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup.
11) What is the nutritional information for maple syrup?
100% pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener without additives or preservatives. It is high in calcium, iron, and potassium.
12) How do you determine when the syrup is finished cooking?
A thermometer is used to tell when the temperature is high enough to indicate that the syrup is finished. This temperature will be 4°C above the boiling point of water at that place and at that time. Since the boiling point of water varies, depending on atmospheric pressure, it must be computed at least once a day. A density of 66.7 ° Brix is reached at the above mentioned temperature. This is measured with a hydrometer.
13) Where does “sugar sand” come from?
Sugar sand is a natural byproduct of changing sap to syrup. Once the maple syrup is thick enough, it is filtered to take out “sugar sand,” which accumulates as sap boils. Sugar sand is just minerals and nutrients that concentrate as the excess water is boiled away. If it is not filtered out, the maple syrup will appear cloudy. Sugar sand is a non-edible, gritty substance that in by gone days was sold to jewellers to aid in polishing gold.
14) How should packed maple syrup be stored?
After being opened, containers of maple syrup should be kept in a refrigerator or freezer. The best place for storing maple syrup is in the freezer. The maple syrup will not freeze solid but will become too thick to pour easily. After thawing enough to pour, the container should be shaken, the required amount taken out and the container resealed and put back into the freezer.
15) How is syrup graded?
Syrup in Ontario is graded by colour. The classes are extra light, light, medium and amber.
16) What makes the different grades?
Maple producers have little control over which grade they make. As a rule of thumb, lighter syrup is made earlier in the season, and darker syrup is made later. During the six-week maple production season temperatures vary and the trees themselves undergo metabolic and chemical changes as they go from winter dormancy to springtime activity. The tree buds start to form towards the end of the sugaring season, about a month before they open up into small leaves. These changes cause differences in maple syrup flavour and colour as the season progresses until during the last run the sap takes on a “buddy”, unpleasant flavour signaling the end of the season.
17) Which is the best grade of syrup?
There is no one grade of maple syrup that is better than another. It often depends on personal taste preference or the intended use. We use the lighter grades to make our maple sugar and maple butter. We enjoy using the darker, stronger flavoured syrup in our recipes to ensure that the flavour comes through.
18) What other pure maple products are there?
Maple Butter: Contains only pure maple syrup. The syrup is cooked to a higher temperature, then cooled, then put through a specialized machine that stirs it into a delicious creamy product. This is tasty on toast, bagels, scones, and muffins.
Maple Sugar: The maple syrup is brought to a higher temperature and then gently stirred through a maple sugar machine and poured into rubber molds.
Stirred Sugar: This syrup is cooked to a slightly higher temperature and stirred until granular for use in baking, in tea or coffee or on hot cereals.
Maple Syrup Glossary
Arch: The arch is the “stove” underneath the evaporator pans. It may be made of metal or cinder block with fire brick on the inside.
Brix Hydrometer: An instrument for determining density (percent sugar) of the sap or syrup.
Evaporator: Arch and pans used for boiling.
Filter Press: Stainless steel unit used to filter the cooked syrup and remove sugar sand after the hot syrup passes through a series of filter papers.
Finishing Pan: A separate flat pan used to finish batches of syrup to standard density. Commonly heated with propane.
Flue Pan: Pan where sap enters the evaporator with deep flues or crimps that give increased heating surface.
Gathering Tank: A metal tank used for transporting sap from the bush to the sugar house.
Tubing: System of small lateral lines made of plastic running from tree to tree and connected to larger plastic main lines which carry the sap to the storage tank.
Sap: Clear, water like fluid from maple trees with sugar content from 1% to 4% (sometimes higher).
Spile: Metal or plastic spout, tapered at one end. This end is driven into the tap hole, so that there are no leaks.
Storage Tank: A large vat to hold the sap until it can be fed to the evaporator.
Sugar bush: A woodlot of predominantly sugar or black maples containing from 125 to 300 taps per hectare.
Syrup Pan: Flat pan where syrup is removed from the evaporator.
Tap hole: A hole bored in a sugar maple, 11 mm in diameter and about 7.5 cm deep (exclusive of bark).