local maple syrup

I’m on the local food bandwagon. There’s just no argument against it. I find it disorienting not to know what is in season at what time of year. I want to re-set my own local knowledge and make sure that my kids know – even if it’s subconscious – that eating strawberries in February (in southern Ontario) isn’t possible without kilometres of asphalt, litres of fuel, refrigerated storage, runways, airplanes, and plastic containers.

I’ve been wanting to plant food in the back yard for a few years now. Every year something puts it off – work, babies, travel. This year is no different. We’re spending mid-April to mid-July – the growing season – in Berlin. I’m not complaining, but this isn’t the year to start planting.

There’s one crop that already grows in our backyard: a maple tree. Last summer my friend Zoe and her family visited us. Her dad remarked: you could tap that tree. Really? One tree? I could? I’m no stranger to the sugar bush. I’ve never made syrup but I’ve seen it being done. I grew up with annual school field trips to the sugar shack and we have family and friends who tap their trees. I just never thought of it as an urban endeavour. It’s true that a tree spile and sap bucket are hard to come by in the city but thanks to some generous friends (thanks Amy!), I borrowed one and started watching the weather forecast.

It has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day for the sap to start to flow. And you have to tap the trees before my Dad’s birthday (March 19) – that’s just a rule. On March 7th, it looked good. We drilled the hole, tapped in the spile, and within seconds, the sap started to flow.

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The truth is nobody makes maple syrup from the sap of one tree. It’s a slow drip. And sap spoils so we’ve resorted to keeping it in the fridge which is a pretty energy-intensive agricultural practice. At some point, when we get enough, we’re going to boil most of the water out of the sap. In the meantime, we’re using electricity to keep it all cool. It’s not very efficient.

It takes 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup. I’m holding out hope for 10 millilitres of final product. We’ll have to make those tiny pancakes that are really just drops of batter and then dole out the syrup from an eyedropper. At least it’s local!

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9 responses to “local maple syrup

  1. That is so awesome! You can tap birch trees too….do you have any of those in your yard?

  2. Thanks. But no – just the one tree. It’s a small yard.

  3. cant you just grow a bigger tree?

  4. You should be thankful you only have one tree – imagine having gallons of sap to store and boil off – on one electric stove – in your kitchen. Ugh.

    I’m proud that me and my Dad get to be famous in your blog. I just wrote him a sad note because I’m out of his syrup – I actually used Aunt Jemima the other day because I was too lazy to go to the store to buy some real stuff.

    You’ll have to get a good fancy bottle and make a good label for your first batch so you can take a picture before you consume it on the one pancake that you’ll all have to share. Send me a bite!

  5. Oh – and my dad’s birthday is the day before your dad’s birthday. That must mean something. Clearly you are meant to be a maple syrup maker.

  6. Hi – It’s me, Zoe’s dad. She sent me the link and I’m thrilled to see you tapping your backyard tree. It looks to me tho, that it might be big enough to put another tap on it – if it is bigger around than say, 64 inches.

    And, to minimize your storage problem you can boil it off every day til it’s near-syrup and store that in the fridge til the end of the season when you can do the final cook-off. With one tap you should be able to get about one litre of syrup.

    And, if all that electric storage and boiling is too much, you can just run it through a coffee filter and drink it. It’s sooo good. Make tea with it as well.

    Enjoy!

  7. Yeah – the dad and Audrey keep a pitcher of sap in the fridge just for drinking – it’s delicious.

  8. K picked up the pitcher thinking it was lemonade and I flew across the room to stop him from drinking it – I want that syrup!
    He’s excited about making tea with it though. Sounds yummy.

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