TAP DANCING WITH MAPLES
The Duncan Forestry Centre was overrun with excited children and their intrigued parents on February 2 when they held a Maple Syrup Festival. Did you know that there is an association of maple syrup producers “Up-Island”, known as “Sapsuckers”, who are converting the sap from our bigleaf maples into a delicious amber syrup?
Lawrence Lampson from Glenora Farm and Gary Backlund from Backlund’s Backwoods are leading the maple syrup revolution on the island. Glenora Farm has been selling limited quantities of their award winning maple syrup from their shop at Glenora Corners, near Duncan and Gary and Katherine Backlund have written “Bigleaf Sugaring, Tapping the western maple” which provides excellent information on how to become involved in producing your own maple syrup.
After touring the displays, watching a tapping and syrup making demonstration and buying a 100 ml jar of syrup for $10.00, I too became caught up in the enthusiasm that permeated the show. I was ready to try my hand at maple tapping and syrup making. Although there were tapping kits for sale at the Forestry Centre, they had all been sold by the time I arrived at noon. Buckerfield’s was also sold out, so I called on Ian Mackenzie, known for his fabulous wooden buckets for sale at Luxton Fairgrounds, and asked for his assistance. He used his lathe to produce a number of wooden spiles and donated one sample collection kit, so that I could start my new hobby. Of course these kind of things never run smoothly for me and I had several trips to the hardware store before I had all the proper equipment together to collect sap. One half inch auger-type cordless drill with bit and charged battery, several “IV” type bags that I scrounged from the Candlelight and Wine shop and a couple of yards of one half inch plastic tubing that is sold in the plumbing section of Slegg’s.
There is something so quintessentially Canadian about tapping maple trees; perhaps it awakens a remnant pioneer spirit. Whatever the reason, I found myself grinning ear to ear as I gently hammered the spiles into the maple’s trunk and watched the first clear drops of sap drip through the plastic lines. So far, in about three days, I have collected 1.25 gallons of sap from five collection sites, which I have processed into one quarter cup of sweet, thin syrup (the general ratio is approximately seventy three parts sap to one part syrup). There just wasn’t enough sap to boil down into a thicker syrup without burning my pots (again). However, it is still delicious and I am inordinately proud of my accomplishment! One word of caution, if you decide to boil sap into syrup, do NOT go and answer emails while the sap is boiling on the stove, it is amazing how you can forget the time and how difficult it is to rescue a crusty burnt pot for future use!
Some people who tap maples do not bother with producing maple syrup and use the sap in place of water; for making rice, beer or wine. I drank a cupful right from the collection container and it was like drinking a very pleasant, slightly sweet glass of water. I’m sure there are going to be great health benefits from consuming a substance that causes trees to grow, buds to burst, leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom (I’m hoping it’s the elixir of youth)!
Researchers are studying the bigleaf maple but as yet there are no hard and fast rules on when to tap, the sap appears to be flowing to its own particular beat, and no combination of conditions has explained when to tap or which trees are sweeter or more productive. One general guideline I found, written in 1972 “points toward choosing open growing trees with vigorous growth. The research points away from choosing trees in dry sites. The presence of sapsucker holes almost always indicates a good tapping tree. An interesting footnote to tapping is that it was found that holes drilled when sap was running produced much more sap than holes drilled when sap didn’t run for a few days. Later on when sap started running, these “dry” holes wouldn’t produce, yet adjacent older holes in the same stem would” (http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/rn181.pdf).
Tapping season is November through till March, be aware that at times the sap will flow, then stop, then start again. When the buds begin to break, the sap will develop an unpleasant flavour and it is best to put away the spiles and buckets until next season. If you are fortunate enough to be collecting too much sap and find you don’t have time to boil into syrup, the sap can be frozen for later use.
Are you interested in participating in the 100 Mile Diet movement? For now, try the early bigleaf maple flowers, before they are fully open, and savour their distinct broccoli-like flavour. Then, late next fall, join the sapsucker brigade and complement your slow food diet with a delectable local sweetener..