March is Maple Syrup Month
Tapping the Right Maple Species for Syrup
March becomes the time of year when tapping the Sugar Maple (most commonly used is the Acer saccharum species) for its sugary sap called maple syrup. Ask anyone and they will say the liquid gold is a staple in every Canadian kitchen. Used on pancakes, in dressings, baking, and even on salmon. Used as a natural sweetener, the syrup comes in a few consistencies, ranging from a liquid to hard candy and everything in between.
The process of tapping Maple trees began with the indigenous people of North America and was eventually refined by the European settlers. By the early 1970s, the production process was better perfected and Quebec became the leading producers of the world’s output. Today, Quebec bottles 90 percent of the maple syrup on our shelves.
Although Sugar Maples are synonymous with the sap, there are other Acer spp. that can also be a source, for example, Black Maple (Acer nigrum), Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo), Silver maple (Acer saccharinum), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), and Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum). Other trees, while tastes will vary quite a bit are Birch (Betula spp.), Walnut (Juglans spp.), and palm trees. Many people have one of these trees in their backyards and they don’t even know it. Identification is the hardest part. The tree generally grows as an oval in shape. In the fall the leaves go a brilliant red and in the summer it is a softly shaped leaf with ‘u’ shaped valleys and tight pinnacles at each tip. This is the national leaf for Canada and is what we graced our brilliant red and white flag with. The younger bark on the tree tends to be grey and somewhat smooth. The lower trunk becomes more rough and mixes natural colours of grey and brown.
Once you have identified the correct tree, you can start the tapping process.
It is important to find the right tools for the job. I purchase my spigots at TSC ( our local farming supply store) or Home Hardware. Other items are a plastic food grade bucket, and a galvanized cover to protect the sap from rain. When drilling the hole in the tree trunk (using a ¼” drip bit, sterilized and sharp to minimize any additional damage to the tree and allow for a good clean flow), I choose the sunniest size, this is where the sun will heat up the tree during the day and allow for the liquid to flow through the spigot into the bucket. At chest height I drill straight into the trunk clearing out any shavings left behind inside the hole. I only drill in about 1.5”, enough to fit the spigot into the hole and prevent any leakage around the seams. If the temperature is warm enough, the bucket can fill within the day. It is important to check every day.
Once I harvest the first bucket, I immediately place it in the cooking dish, I use a pressure cooker pot (minus the lid) I bought from a second hand store. I prefer to do this outside as it takes all day to cook and it releases a lot of moisture in the air which settles on the ceiling and can stain. I was lucky to acquire a cast iron antique stove from my mom and I add an extension on the back to ensure the smoke bypasses the cooking sap. This will prevent the liquid from tasting smokey. When you get it hot enough to bubble, you are well on your way. Checking every couple hours will give you an idea of progress. When you get down to the last inch and the syrup starts taking form, you will need to be near it to ensure it doesn’t burn because this is a much faster evaporation then the first 90 percent of the process.
Check out this vlog by GardenFork to see the process first hand. It is a little trial and error but worth its weight in gold. Maple syrup makes a great gift and great to serve to guests as a desert. They will surely be impressed!
This information is provided by Dusil Design. Alica Dusil is a graduate of Horticulture from Niagara College and is a landscape designer since 1999 and has a passion for the arts focusing on metal sculpture and oil painting. For more information or any questions, write her email@example.com. Check out Dusil Design on Instagram and Facebook.