Sugar bush better late than never

sugarshack

I was speaking with my father last night who lives in the Quebec Laurentians – the heart of sugar bush country – and it looks like syrup producers are poised and ready for take-off this week!

My Dad and good friend John tapped about 800 trees yesterday and have another 200, or so, to do today before they finish up.

From what I can tell, the season is at least 2 weeks later than last year, but hey, better late than never right?

Ah, there is nothing like the maple syrup time of year, if you ask me, and I have spent more years than I can recall working in the sugar bush. Times I will never forget..

What a blast it used to be – running lines, repairing breaks, tapping, watching the evaporater, taking the syrup off and even canning. The whole operation is a joy right down to the moment when that first batch of maple syrup comes off…man it tastes great when its warm!

There is a certain amount of science involved in a maple syrup operation; from understanding the sugar content in sap at various times of the year, knowing the colour and taste of grade ‘A’ syrup, to ‘old-school’ skills like knowing how to build and maintain the perfect fire for your evaporator.

Then it is moment(many hours later) when the ‘webbing starts’ at precisely 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, and your pure maple syrup is ripe for the picking!

Old school syrup producers have never used these modern gauges and I’m sure never worried about it either. They can read more in the webbing off their ladle than a thousand sophisticated gauges could ever read..now that is pure science.

sapcan

The final product, well, it is simply a thing of beauty and there is really nothing in the world that compares to the taste of fresh maple syrup, or taffy on snow.

Canada produces 90% of the world’s supply of maple syrup(mostly from QC) – a statistic we should be very proud of.  It is a big part of our heritage like hunting, fishing or the fur industry.

SyrupCan

Outdoorsguy

50 thoughts on “Sugar bush better late than never”

  1. Jeff if you get a chance get a pre cooked sausage (no frills ) and put it in the sap while the sap boils till hot . then put in the exit tray of the syrup . and then put in hot hot hot fire for about a min . and it glazes the sausage … you want to talk about heaven … i am going to now have to go down the road and see my buddie dan thomey for a sausage ….

    1. Ok Chessy, I must admit I have never ever heard of that…would you mind if use it in one of my books?

      I’ll call it “Chessy’s Hot Glazed Sausage”

      What do you think??

      Outdoorsguy

  2. It is later than last year but last year we had an unusual spring, warm and dry. Never worked one but sure have enjoyed the final product

    1. Iggy, thats actually a very good point.

      The syrup season is not really late by normal standards…just later than it was last year.

      Working the syrup operation from start to finish is not really a big money making venture by any stretch, and some years its just plain lots of hard work for little reward.

      I feel for people in that industry now..a lot of them lease the sugarbush’s out too…making it even harder to make a dollar.

      Outdoorsguy

    1. Yeah Chess, I guess I’ve fallen off the wagon…

      Seriously though, where did you discover this recipe??

      Outdoorsguy

  3. … spent many a day feeding a fire and tapping trees… i did it for extra money for the Sportsman show when it was worth going to .. and as you know .. it is not easy work. cleaning lines , tapping trees checking for leaks in knee deep snow but they sure are good.. when i go down i wiil get pictures for you book….mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    1. Chessy, you sound like quite an experienced maple syrup guy!

      Can your recall have any trouble with squirrels chewing the lines? Man, people ask me why I dislike squirrels so much..that’s just one more reason!

      Outdoorsguy

  4. Ah the old squirrels… we found a way to fix them .. (mail me if you want an answer on how to get rid of them, its too graffic for here) and wood peckers too, must have been the movement in the lines that triggered them. also a squirrel is nothing but a RAT with a bushy tail.

  5. Ahhh… one of my favourite times of the year. It’s spring, and it’s maple season. I’ve taken the family to a sugarbush every spring for… well since I’ve had a family. The problem is finidng a good suger bush with authentic meals. In many paces the food is store-bought frozen food served on a styrofoam plate… and the server pours the syrup for you!
    There was a place in Ripon Quebec… I forget the name… that was simply the best place to go. The food was fresh home made and authentic and plenty of it. They closed about 5 years ago.

    1. GPG, I think I remember that Cabane a Sucre actually…its places like that off-the-beaten path where the food is awesome and you can usually eat as much as you like..there used to be one near St Jovite in the area I’m from, it was great too.ah man, I can almost taste those thick back bacon pork pieces, man those are crispy goodness..and so bad for you too, I bet!

      Like you, I’m still looking for a good one..there is one place I know(wont say the name) they charge you like $20 for breakfast, then watch you like a hawk to make sure you don’t share with anyone..that was the last time we went!

      Outdoorsguy

  6. just talked to the guy down the road, thomey farms. he said most sap in 20 years, he is going to run out of wood. he replaced all his lines due to a new study that linked old line and taps that lead to bacteria in the lines that seal up the hole in tree and reduces the volume of sap. Looks like its going to be a good year for some syrup producers

    1. Interesting, I will pass that info. along to the boys up north..was actually just speaking with my father who spent 11 hours in the bush today on snow-shoes – finishing up the tapping and repairing lines..not a bad day for an 80-year old, I’d say!

      Unfortunately a big break in the main line caused them to lose a lot of sap today..and he said it was running like a bugger!!

      Outdoorsguy

  7. he got dollars from the government to replace line (grant) he said it is running so fast he is glad he has his R.O machine .

  8. Hey Jeff so you dislike squirrels , you have to try Pauls sqirrel nuggets cooked and glazed with maple syrup and wild garlic and desert french toast with 1/2 maple syrup and 1/2 grand marnier.

    1. Benthooks, wouldn’t feeding the squirrels Grand Marnier sort of defeat the purpose..hehe

      Outdoorsguy

  9. Must be nice to be able to mainline it! We’re pretty flat here and maples are too far spread. We ended up just tapping a 1/2 dozen trees for our own syrup this year. Next year will build a better wood fired evaporator and scale things up with the back 70 acres.

  10. great blog jeff! So very true! We’re making plans for next weekend. There is nothing like being in the bush – for any reason, let alone making sweet syrup.

    We all like it for various reasons – one of my favourite is to add a few teaspoons over some steamed sweet potatoes. yum yum! 🙂

    1. Keebler, I’m sorry I missed your post for some reason.

      Im liking the sound of syrup of sweet potatoes, that does sound good!

      Outdoorsguy

  11. Well I can now take “Maple Syrup Making” off of my bucket list.

    We took advantage of this time of year when we wait for ice out so we can trap muskrats and beaver and we tried our hand at maple syrup production. I have a new found respect for the $70.00 / gallon it costs to buy.

    We only put in 24 taps and have boiled up 140 litres of sap so far to get 3.5 litres of liquid gold.

    Our first kick at it was a success and we never burnt it. Hope to do up another 280 litres for a grand total of 10.5 litres of syrup.

    On a good note….It’s certainly a spectator sport at this level.

    1. Hey trapper, I’m glad you’ve seen that operation for the ‘other side’….my feeling is its a lot like trapping, in that, if you didnt love it, you wouldn’t be doing it strictly for the money!

      Outdoorsguy

    1. Ok McDan, you will need to dig up that recipe for me..if you can find it.

      Mmmm, alcohol and sugar together again!

      Outdoorsguy

  12. @ McDan, alcohol from syrup. Funny thing, we thought about doing exactly this…What prompted this thought was that we were using my wine brewing hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the sap vs the syrup. Making syrup is the opposite of making wine or beer. In that process the specific gravity decreases as the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol. WIth syrup it increases as the water is boiled off. The SG of syrup is 1.37.

    Imagine throwing a batch of yeast into the mix prior to it reaching the syrup stage. If produced commercially it would be worth $1000.00 / bottle.

  13. Hey Jeff,

    Just came across this post. I used maple syrup prodcution as one of my many excuses to be out in the woods. I tapped about 100 trees right at my deer camp, built an outdoor fire pit out of cement blocks, and boiled away. The argo came in handy to get around the bush. I put a 55 gallon drum in the back and collected sap out of my buckets. No lines for this lad.

    I didn’t set up this year, too busy with work and family. The wife and I did take the boys to Fulton’s on the weekend, I had the itch to get out and smell boiling sap and have some maple taffy. It’s definitely something I miss. I still have all my equipment, so maybe once the boys are a little older I’ll get back into it.

    The best drink is to dunk a mug in the boiling sap and then add a little rum. Warms up the soul!!!

    1. sureshot-dave, great to hear to hear from you man! I thought your silence meant you were out in the sugar bush, but I guess not….always busy with a family and kids I know that..besides, the sap has shutdown completely this week with the snowfall and colder weather.

      Thanks for checking-in and don’t be a stranger…btw, my good friends at Bushnell were happy to receive your email regarding the Trailcam XLT…I forwarded it to them. This year they have a new model out with ‘Black LED’s. It is completely invisible during nightvision shots…other companies have this, but its a first for Bushnell…not that the regular ‘glowing LEDs’ have really spooked any wildlife in my opinion..but black would certainly be a good idea from a security standpoint.

      Outdoorsguy

  14. re maple sap wine: unfortunatly my uncle passed away the year after he made said wine. I never did ask him any questions about the making of it, just enjoyed the end result. But don’t despair i have left message with my aunt hoping she remembers or knows spec. I know he used to make all sorts of wine with whatever was bountiful in particular year.

    1. mcdan, that is unfortunate of uncle’s passing..sounds like he had a gift when it came to ‘living of the fat of the land’

      Outdoorsguy

  15. A friend up Lanark way also makes birch syrup. it is darker than maple and not as sweet. its more like a sweet teriyaki sauce. we use to marinate meat and to baste chicken and beef on bbq. It seems to start running a little later than the maple sap.

    1. Yeah, I suppose you could tap any hardwood really..I know some people tap red and black maple in other areas (red maple season is a bit later), but I must say, I’ve never heard of birch tapping.

      It does sound really interesting, though; wonder if the consistency is the same as regular syrup?

      Outdoorsguy

    1. OK Iggs, that’s a new one…from Adrian’s site you say..so do you use stuff to attract turkeys or do you eat it..hehe

      Outdoorsguy

  16. no I ate it, it wasn’t as good as Maple Syrop but it was good, go on his site and ask a guy that goes by the name Cramadog, Seriously

    1. Iggy, I’m actually more interested in how that guy from Andrian’s site got the nickname ‘Cramadog’…hehe…

      Outdoorsguy

  17. birch syrup is thinner in consistency than maple for sure and darker also. I believe he has recipies for it that i will pass on to you when i see him next.

    1. Ok McDan, you scared me for a second as I thought you meant when you see that uncle next. It’s your friend up in Lanark, ok, that makes more sense.

      Outdoorsguy

  18. wow . jeff… never heard of birch tapping … apparently it taste a little minty . according to the producer down the road … i would like to taste it …sounds good… i know one year we had guys that tapped spruce and hemlock.. but with so much sap i dont think it made a differnce

    1. Chessy, you mean they tapped hemlock and spruce simultaneously…and there was so much sap it didnt make a diff to the final product?

      Sorry, its still early and I guess Im not awake yet.

      Outdoorsguy

  19. again my wording late at night … the pair of guys dumb as stumps tapped them .. but thank god there were more maple trees on the line that what little sap those trees produced if any did not taint the rest of it .. after all some days he gets 1000s of gallons

  20. This will be the weekend to boil, It has been a very slow spring, I put the buckets out Mar 5,
    Gather and boil on the weekends, almost has not been worth it. It will be a late night tonight
    and probably tomorrow.

    1. imacdon, I hope the temperature holds for you..up north where my Dad is, they’re calling for snow flurries and just barely warm enough to run…guess it’ll depend on what Mother Nature has to offer..

      Did you mean to say, “almost hasn’t been worth it”…I know after the first few opening days of the run…it shut right down to nothing with the cold temps..drag for sure

      I wish you luck with Nature’s most perfect food!

      Outdoorsguy

  21. That’s what I mean……..

    My first Batch I went to finish was almost 70-1. My neighbours had the same results.
    Last weekend everything was ice and what I did boil was closer to the 35-1 norm.
    Looking forward to tonight may have to have a few pop’s.

  22. Jeff just brought the young lad from fishing on the ganny . the guy down the road is boiling away as i type this i can see the steam from the house

    1. Sounds good Chessy!

      Hook any stealhead?? I’m not sure what the trick is to catching those things, but I never had any luck at it. I fished in Port Hope a couple of times too when I was in Lindsay, but never hooked a darn thing. I was no expert, but I had guys with me who knew what they were doing..

      How are things at the fish ladder this year??

      Outdoorsguy

  23. SNAFU, if you know that acronym when your dealing with mnr and engineers, if you know what i mean.. i take my son down every morning before school at 6 till 8 i don’t fish. He usually catches at least 1 in am then goes back down after school till 7 and sometimes catches 1-3 …. its just starting to get good now .

    1. Chess, you are fortunate to be able to do that..and your son is lucky to have such a good influence!

      Outdoorsguy

  24. acctually jeff my son if fortunate. because if you ever seen him carry on when he cant go fishing . he would be dead, from his mother. he has the fever very bad when it comes to fishing

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