Into the Sugar Bush...
Peter and Patty Ellis welcomed 30 or so members of the Tec-We-Gwill Women’s Institute and Tecumseth & West Gwillimbury Historical Society to their 10th Line property, March 18, to enjoy a Canadian tradition: a visit to the sugar bush.
It was Canada’s Indigenous people who first discovered that Birch and Maple saps could be used as sweeteners, but it was the pioneer settlers who perfected the process of transforming sap into syrup, and more importantly, sugar.
Cane sugar was a rare and expensive commodity. Maple sugar was readily available, at little cost except for the labour required. For the few weeks in spring when the sap begins to rise and before the buds swell and burst into leaf, whole families would head out into the bush, to tap the trees, hang buckets, and collect the sap, which was boiled down in a series of three iron kettles.
Children, taken out of school for a March break at sugaring-off time, would help by carrying buckets and gathering firewood.
Sap simmered for eight hours in one kettle, before being transferred to the next – using evaporation to remove the water, and thicken the sap into syrup. But the goal wasn’t maple syrup; the process would continue until the gooey liquid began to crystallize into maple sugar, which was shaped into blocks that could keep indefinitely.
There have been many changes since the pioneer days. Iron kettles have been replaced by more efficient evaporators. And refrigeration means that Maple syrup is more prized than the sugar.
Ellis has been tapping his trees and hanging buckets – now made of plastic or galvanized metal – for the past 20 years. He gathers the sap from approximately 160 buckets, using an ATV to carry the sap to his evaporator in the woods.
That’s where the guests enjoyed a brunch of pancakes and fresh maple syrup, maple-baked ham, maple baked beans, and French Canadian Pea Soup, and learned more about “sugaring off.”
A light snow was falling, as they stood in the maple bush. Ellis noted that in all his years of making maple syrup, “this is the first year the buckets froze totally.”
Fortunately, before the March cold snap, warm temperatures let the sap flow – and he got in three “boil downs” while the weather was mild.
It takes days above the freezing mark and nights below zero for the sap to flow, and with luck, there may be a few weeks of sugaring off still to come.
The Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival continues at the Kortright Centre for Conservation, Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area, Island Lake in Orangeville, and Terra Cotta in the Halton Hills, until April 2. Come out to enjoy maple syrup-making demonstrations, wagon rides, activities, pancakes and maple syrup. Dates and hours vary by location. There are additional fun-filled activities on weekends. See maplesyrupfest.com for details.
Tap into Spring
Scanlon Creek Conservation Area, located off the 9th Line BWG north of Bradford, offers Maple Syrup workshops, Saturdays and Sundays only, until April 2. Learn how to tap a maple tree, collect sap and boil it down to make syrup – and enjoy a waffle and syrup. Adults $10, children $5, kids under four are free. Sign up for the morning session, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., or afternoons, 12:30-2:30 p.m. To register contact Katarina, at K.Zeppieri@lsrca.on.ca, or look under Community Education Programs at lsrca.on.ca.
The Spring Tonic Maple Syrup Festival at the Tiffin Centre for Conservation, 8195 Line 8 in Essa Twp., takes place April 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and April 9 from 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 2 to 12, free for tots, and includes a pancake, maple syrup and sausage breakfast, wagon rides, live music, a chance to meet the friendly animals of Zoo To You, and more. All activities are included in the price of admission; small materials fee to build a birdhouse! Cash only, at the gate.