I’m an immigrant, which is a very Canadian thing to be. Living in Canada has been an absolute delight and I have been thoroughly enjoying immersing myself in the Canadian way of life. I’ve watched the Trailer Park Boys, learned to identify both Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) and I’m a fan of the Tragically Hip.
Dabbling in other Canadian traditions has met with less success. Ice skating, for instance, was both terrifying and painful while skiing had me mowing down tiny children on the bunny slope with wild abandon. By far my most favourite tradition of all has to be the process of making maple syrup.
Aren’t trees amazing? Shade, fuel, shelter, fruit, nuts and even golden delicious syrup can all be found under their welcoming canopies. I live in the tiny Ontario village of Warkworth, population 650. But they do have a sugar bush and maple syrup festival which I attended for the first time two years ago. That’s when I was introduced to the simple art of syrup making. It seemed so easy, so I tried it myself last year for the first time and what a huge success it was!
Collecting sap to make maple syrup is as easy as pie. All you need is a drill, a spile and a bucket and you’re good to go. Modern spiles are plastic, so you can use a thin tube to feed the sap to a central bucket or container that can collect for several spiles. You simply drill a hole in the tree, tap in a spile and collect the sweet sap that pours out from late February or early March, depending on the temperatures.
You want the daytime temperatures to go above freezing with the nights below. The sap is very delicious and good to drink. It is a good source of potassium, magnesium and calcium—all minerals that are good for bone health. Maple sap is packed with antioxidants and will help to lower your blood sugar. So help yourself to a glass or two while you wait for the syrup to boil down.
Tapping maple trees is a very social tradition. You need to make a fire where you can boil down the sap. The ratio is 40 to 1 so 40 litres of maple sap will produce 1 litre of syrup. That’s a lot of evaporating that needs to happen and that’s where the socializing comes in.
Sitting around and having a couple of drinks while tending the fire and adding sap to the pan is a wonderful way to pass the time. This is a lengthy process, so stock up on the drinks and snacks. And not to worry, maple sap helps to metabolize alcohol, so a couple of glasses will ensure you go hangover free.
Making maple syrup was one of my favourite things about last winter, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I have got my trees tapped this year. Not only was I swimming in pancakes and syrup all year, I got a huge kick out of sharing my maple syrup with my friends and family.
The promise of a campfire, some outdoor time, friends and sweet, sweet syrup is something I look forward to at the end of every winter. If you want to enjoy this tradition too, here’s a quick video about the process of tapping maple trees: