The Maple Leaf Forever

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Sunday March 2

Ahhh…Sugar Moon…Ziisabaakode Giizis (Izhkigamisegi Geezis was the ‘Moon of Boiling’ for the Ojibwa)

Even though Maple Syrup season has begun, I’m sure to our Eastern brethren, Spring still seems far off in a distant future

The big hardwood forests of Northeastern North America are currently slumbering, awaiting the first signs of Winter’s lessening. The leader of the forest, the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), awakens first

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Like anyone after a long sleep, the Maple is thirsty. All of it’s precious food has been stored over the winter as starch and it needs water to turn that starch into it’s sweetwater sap. It draws water up from the ground, (through a fascinating system called Hydraulic Lift) uses what it needs and releases the surplus back into the upper layers of soil…to the benefit of the surrounding plants. That’s why it’s called the Leader…because it takes only what it needs and shares the rest with it’s neighbours

The Maple Sap Flow requires below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures in the morning. That fluctuation in temperature only happens for a short time each Spring but when it does…it’s pure Gold

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When the sap is flowing, pressure inside the Maple causes it to leak out of any breaks or wounds in the tree. A broken twig becomes a good source of nourishment for red squirrel (who also likes to make ‘cuts’ of their own and then return for the crust of sugar after the sap water has evaporated)

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The First Nations have long harvested the Sweetwater for it’s medicinal and nutritional value. In the old days, the sap was allowed to drip from handmade Spiles (or spouts) into birchbark buckets or Makuks

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If you’re interested in making your own Makuk…just tap into this photo (note: birchbark is more flexible when heated slightly)

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Making Sinzibuckwud (drawn from wood)…or as it’s called today ‘Maple Syrup’, is a matter of reducing the water content of the sap from 97% to 34%. This can be done by freezing the sap and removing the ice (water) or…by evaporating the sap through a heat process. This used to be done by applying heated rocks to the Sweetwater in a hollowed log (being prepared here for sugar season by our new friend Nick, from Black Thunder Studios

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(stir stick sold seperately)

“From the journals of early New England explorers we have learned that there were three types of maple sugar made by the Northeastern American Indians: “Grain Sugar” a coarse granulated sugar similar to that we know as “brown sugar”; “Cake Sugar,” sugar poured into wooden molds to become hard cakes or blocks; and “Wax Sugar,” which was made by boiling syrup extra thick and pouring it over snow. This wax sugar is what we know today as “sugar on snow.”turtletrack.org

One really cool place to recall the ancient sugaring legends, methods and enjoy some sweet Maple Syrup on cornbread (or on snow) is Crawford Lake Conservation area in Campbellville, Ontario. Their Sweetwater season runs Weekends, every day of March Break and all holidays from March 2 until April 7. (Crawford Lake is at 3115 Conservation Rd., at the corner of Guelph Line and Conservation Road, formerly Steeles Avenue)

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The arrival of Europeans brought metal…and cast iron pots are re-useable, more efficient and can either be buried on site for next year’s sugaring or used year-round to make soap

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Other Europeans added their own technologies to the process. They bored holes in the maple trunks and inserted wooden or metal spouts. They used wooden buckets to catch the sap, and then carried the sweet water on shoulder yokes to the metal boiling kettles. Early settlers, like the Native Americans, saved their maple as crystallized sugarmaple museum.com

(note: commercial sugar was not readily available until 1870)

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I’m just guessing that hauling two full (and waterlogged) oak buckets around all day would be a ton of work. Whole families would join in working at a neighbours sugar bush and workers were often paid in bricks of sugar. There’s even some truth to the rumour that too many children being out of school during Maple season was the precursor to March Break

You can see just how heavy two oak buckets on a yoke are by visiting Mountsberg Conservation area in Campbellville, Ontario. Interpretive sleigh rides (or wagon rides, depending on snow) through a working sugar bush, demonstrations on various historical methods of tree tapping, collection and sugar making, samples of early settler maple sugar, watching the actual making of syrup in the giant evaporator and pancakes and syrup dinner in the Pancake Pavilion…whew…and on top of that, there are still the bison herd and raptor center to visit. What a day! Mountsberg Maple Town is open Weekends, every day of March Break and all holidays from March 2 until April 7. (Mountsberg Conservation area is on Milburough Line, five kilometres West of Campbellville, between Hwy. 6 South and Guelph Line) insidehalton.com

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“Around the time of the American Civil War, syrup makers started using large, flat sheet metal pans as they were more efficient for boiling than heavy, rounded iron kettles, because of a greater surface area for evaporation. Around this time, cane sugar replaced maple sugar as the dominant sweetener in the US; as a result, producers focused marketing efforts on maple syrup. The first evaporator, used to heat and concentrate sap, was patented in 1858. In 1872, an evaporator was developed that featured two pans and a metal arch or firebox, which greatly decreased boiling time” ouellette.ca

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(the evaporator)

A really great place to enjoy a Victorian Maple Syrup Festival is at Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville, Ontario. Staff, costumed in period clothing, demonstrate tree tapping, sap collection and the making of syrup. There’s Maple taffy and a 100-year-old Spruce Lane Farmhouse you can tour…and of course a wagon ride to the Pancake House where you can eat pancakes with fresh syrup

“Fresh Ontario maple syrup begins flowing at Bronte Creek Provincial Park on the first Saturday in March when the park’s annual Maple Syrup Festival gets under way. The maple syrup festivities are open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every weekend in March and from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily through March Break”

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Take some time out this Spring and discover the magic of Maple…at the Maple Syrup Festival nearest you

For further reading…

Maple – http://www.coolhemp.com/healingtrees/beaver/maple.shtml

Traditional Sugar Making – http://www.kstrom.net/isk/food/maple.htm

The Real Canadian Maple Syrup – http://www.native-art-in-canada.com/canadian-maple-syrup.html

Ouellette Farm – http://www.ouellette.ca/Menu_Store/Products/MapleSyrup.aspx

Canadian Maple Syrup – http://www.canadiannaturephotographer.com/maplesyrup.html

How to Tap Maple Trees and Make Maple Syrup – http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/PDFpubs/7036.pdf

Maple Sugaring in Ontario (includes a list of sites open to the public) – http://www.toronto4kids.com/February-2014/Maple-Sugaring-in-Ontario/

Also check out this CBC news story about the newest way to make Maple Syrup (which might be good since the Sugar Maple is struggling to survive against pollution, acid rain and unfavourable moisture conditions. Maple Decline)

You know, if we could all get together and clean up our act, we just might enjoy the Maple Leaf…Forever (act now…supplies are limited)

Goodnight all

Moose and Wendle

P.S.

Here’s a really good interview about Maple Syrup with Jim Aikenhead, Program Instructor at Mountsberg Conservation area and teacher extraordinaire (just click on the pic)

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P.S.S.

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3 thoughts on “The Maple Leaf Forever

  1. Yes we in Ontario are still waiting for those magic temperatures. -20 degrees C when I woke this morning. I think the first ‘run’ is a way off yet. That was a great clip of that handsome guy talking about syrup.
    Also when will the Wendy Friendly products be available on my grocers shelves?
    Jamaicanhead

    • A: As soon as you retire and move out here to the Sunshine Coast (barroom-boom).
      Hi Jim…please keep us posted on the run…and Maple Town (i can’t believe i missed the flapjack olympics…it’s a true amateur event and one of my favourites)

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