While I was trying to social distance myself earlier this month, I have visited our country side of the province. In these rough times, when the whole world is boiling in tension (due to COVID-19), rural people in Ontario are still following their traditions to harvest and boil their own sap, in order to make maple syrup.
Several buckets were hanging on the maple trees along the little street I went for some walk, waiting patiently for the sweet sap to come out, some were dripping more than others from some tall and beautiful trees.
Canada is the world’s leading producer of maple products, and the province of Quebec has over 90% of the Canadian production, but Ontario has also plenty of maple trees where Ontarians are harvesting the sap from, for their own consumption. Especially in rural areas.
The sweet sap of the sugar maple trees was known by Indigenous people of the Northeast of Canada long before the arrival of European settlers. They used to cut the bark trees in v-shaped patters, or insert basswood or willow tubes into the tree. Birch-bark bowls were placed beneath the tap cu catch the watery sap in late winter or early spring. Some were leaving the sap outside in the cold to have the water freeze and be thrown away, others would boil the sap adding hot rocks to the birch-back pots.
Because of the high sugar content, only three species of maple threes are predominantly used to produce maple syrup: the sugar maple, the red maple, and the black maple. They are harvested while the frost is still in the ground. The sap is stimulated when the temperatures are above 00C during the day, followed by below freezing temperatures during the night. The positive pressure created by temperature above 00C produce a natural flow of the sap. When a tree internal pressure is bigger than the outside pressure, the sap will flow out of a tap drilled into the tree (or any other hole). As the pressure in the tree drops during the day, the sap flow slows down and stop during the afternoon. Negative pressure is found within the tree and it starts absorb water through its roots. The next day, as it warms up and the positive pressure is restored, the natural flow starts again, letting the sap out of the hole. Depending on the location, the maple sap harvest holds between February and April. The sap is sweeter at the beginning of the harvest season, it contains between 2% and 5% sugar. Also, the sap is changing its taste later in the season.
It takes between 30 to 50 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. And countless hours of boiling until the real maple syrup is ready.
Various maple syrup festivals take place normally in Ontario around this time, but all provincial parks are closed until April 30 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We can only buy some maple syrup from a store, if still available on the shelves. It can be used as a topping on pancakes, French toast, waffles, or used to flavour different food, like ice-cream, cakes, granola, sausages, or other meals.
Maple products are emblematic for Canada, a red maple leaf is depicted on the flag, the symbol of the whole country. Here, the Parliament Hill in Ottawa lighted in Canadian flag colours
Tip(s) of the day:
- Everyone should have some maple syrup in the house. Its rich flavour and natural sweetness are great also to sweeten the coffee or tea.
~ visited in March 2020
Stay home, stay safe dear readers, wherever you are!