Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nothing Says Spring Like Maple Syrup and Don Messer

Maple syrup. Photo: LadyDragonflyCC*Bring on Spring
Today it's officially spring! The sun is warm and the snow is beginning to melt. In some places, the ground is already muddy but there is sweet anticipation in the air. The sap is running and it's time to make maple syrup!

How do you know when it's time? Daytime temperatures are over 40°F or 5°C and the nights are below freezing.

One year, we decided to tap the old sugar maple in our backyard. It was a big tree so we used more than one tap, emptying the pails every day until we filled a large bucket. At that point, I did something stupid. Oh, I filtered it through a clean cheesecloth into a huge kettle and that was fine. The problem began when I decided I could use my kitchen stove to boil it down. After all, it was warm and the windows were open so what could go wrong? Nothing, as long as turning the entire house into a sauna is what you want. Lesson learned, although it may be worth trying if you need to remove wallpaper at any point. The photos below give you an idea of just how much steam we are talking about here.

Definitely take it outside. If you have a fire pit, just add an old oven rack adjusted for height with bricks or rocks and carry on. If there is a city ordinance forbidding open fires in your yard, then by all means haul out the barbecue but have plenty of fuel on hand. This is going to take awhile. The ratio of sap to finished syrup works out to something like 40:1 but it's an exciting project for the whole family. Kids can check the sap in the buckets and help empty them. Let them taste it from the tree and see if they can detect any sweetness. Then there are preserving jars to prepare and, of course, that first taste of perfect maple syrup drizzled over fresh snow.

If you've never tried this, you should consider doing it at least once. With some luck, you will hit a jackrabbit year like we did and have a pantry stocked full of maple syrup in no time flat. After a couple of week's work, we had enough syrup for our family for two years and that included giving a lot away to friends and neighbours. It was also a nice way to say thank you for the Christmas goose that made a surprise appearance at our door later that year. All in all, not bad for one old tree.

Sugar shack near Elmira, Ontario. Photo by Ian Munroe
Steam fills the woods like fog. Photo by Ian Munroe
Keeping the fire burning for syrup. Photo by Ian Munroe
If this is not your year to make your own syrup, have a look for a sugar shack in your area that hosts pancake breakfasts, horse-drawn sleigh rides or tractor rides and take the kids or grandkids for a treat they will never forget.

What has all this got to do with Don Messer? Maybe you remember Don Messer's Jubilee on CBC. Alright. Maybe you didn't watch it but your parents or grandparents probably did and Maple Sugar on Don Messer's fiddle is pretty sweet. This made my day and I hope it makes you smile, too. Enjoy the spring!


  1. There's nothing quite like Maple Syrup. My cousin used to make his own and oh how I miss it. I remember when I was little we'd pour the maple syrup over fresh clean snow.

    1. Maple syrup on fresh snow is a treat like no other! Homemade maple syrup tastes better to me, too, but maybe it's all in my head. We did this right in town and it turned out well. Thanks so much for visiting :)