Maple SyrupViki Mather March 1, 2010
Looks like sugaring season is going to come early this year! Mmmmaple!
We ski along a lovely forest trail two kilometres to where the sugar maples grow. As I climb the last, long winding hill to the sugar bush, I can hear water rushing along under the snow. Here and there the stream has washed the trail away.
By the time I get to the sugarbush, some of the collecting buckets are already half full. They drip, drip, drip as I wind my way through the trees to the boiler.
The first thing to do is to build the fire. I’ve got to get yesterday’s sap started to boil before going out to collect today’s. Once the fire is roaring, boiling pans filled, and the day’s production begun, I stop to take a breath and look around.
I still have 100 litres in storage. The first 20-litre bucket I open is full nearly to the brim – and it is intricately decorated with the finest crystal I’ve ever seen. Like a giant snowflake, the six-sided crystal sparkles in the sun. It seems a shame to dip into this bucket, knowing that the delicate, lacy frost will be broken. I lift the wafer thin ice carefully, but it breaks and shatters at my feet.
As soon as the sap comes to a boil in the large, open pans, I head out to collect the sap from the buckets hanging on the trees. Thirty-six ‘Acer saccharum’ spread over an acre of hillside must be visited, as I collect their gift of sweet water.
It takes three trips into the bush to bring in all of the morning’s sap. My feet are cold and wet from the wading the streams on the morning ski, and from walking through the snow to visit each tree.
Back at the fire, I put the new sap into storage buckets. I take off my ski boots and socks to dry beside the boiler. Then I sit back with a steaming hot cup of ‘maple tea’ to warm my innards.
The day warms as the sap boils away. The only clouds are from the steam above the sap.
By afternoon the crusty snow has softened almost into slush. My second trip out to collect the sap is a warm and wet one. Now the day is hot, and I sweat as I gather the sap. This time when I’m done filling the storage bucket, I sit back with a cup of the cool, clear sweet maple water to quench my thirst. Mmmmaple!
I’m surrounded by quiet. The deep snow of the forest muffles all other sounds; except the drip, drip, drip of sap into the buckets, and the quiet hsssss of sap boiling in the pans.
Through the course of the day, I put 150 litres of sap through the boiler. At the end of the day, I put 7 litres of thin syrup in my backpack to take home.
Evening comes as I ski the two kilometres home again. Dropping temperatures cool the moisture in the air. Mist rises all around.
Skiing carefully with this precious (and hot!) syrup on my back, I’m cautious on the hills…keeping in mind those rushing streams that are filled with the day’s melting snow.
At home I filter the thin syrup, and put it on the stove to boil some more. After 11 hours in the bush, boiling 150 litres of sap, there is yet another hour of boiling to bring the syrup to a perfect thickness.
Finally, I have four and a half litres of golden brown maple syrup to show for my day’s efforts. From 150 litres to 4½ — not a bad ratio! It looks like it is going to be a sweet spring in the sugarbush.
For many years, Viki Mathers and her husband Allan operated Kukagami Lodge, a wonderful off the grid retreat reachable only by boat. They sold the lodge in 2012. They can still be reached by email at: email@example.com or visit their website: http://kukagamilodge.blogspot.com/