(Thanks to my brother, Jamie, for this contribution)
After buying 80 acres of pasture and bush, getting us to move into a dirt floored cabin until the house could be built, dad seceded that he wanted to make maple syrup. He knew next to nothing about the process, but as always, the library had a wealth of information. After scouring a number of books, Dad he was ready to take on the maple bush. If it was in a book – Dad could do it.
First, he ordered an attachment for his chainsaw and a special bit (The saw rotates opposite of a drill, so the bit had to cut backwards) Then, he ordered 200 spigots along with the pill you have to put in behind to stop the tree from “healing” itself. He went out and bought an old fuel oil tank and had a local shop in Craighurst cut the side out, weld a pipe and tap onto the now bottom, and steam clean the inside of the tank. They also welded a stand to sit the tank up to allow the fire to be built underneath.
He set up his first attempt at this beside the old cabin deep in the woods…. the one we slept in for 4 months whille the house was being build. He tapped trees on the other side of the stream. His original intention was to bring the sap back by wagon, but we’d had lots of snow that winter, so that idea was out. His next idea was to take a plastic garbage can and use the snowmobile to collect the sap. This worked well at the start, but as the snow started to melt and the packed snow wasn’t as solid, a number of cans full of sap were lost to tip-overs, as my brother Jamie and his friend David Clark can attest. The sap was not only “wet” but it was sticky. What a mess.
The tank didn’t allow for accuracy of any kind when it came to temperature control, so there were a few batches that were lost due to burning. It was a tricky process getting the sap to a really light syrup, then drawing that off to finish on a Coleman stove. Even with a hygrometer to measure density, it was seconds sometimes between the “perfect draw’ and a burnt glob. Dad persevered though and got it down to a reasonably fine art, even with a fuel oil tank for an evaporator.
He used old wine bottles for his first syrup containers, and considered the year a rousing success. He managed to make 12 bottles of syrup that year, and had collected about 2000 gallons of sap to accomplish that.
Dad was hooked, and for the remainder of our time on the property, March was Maple Syrup time. He moved up from the tank to a professional evaporator manufactured in Quebec, with a “sugar shanty” to keep the elements out and allow for a better product. His best year was 200 litres of syrup produced … at a ratio of 60 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup, we collected 12,000 litres of sap that year.
The maple syrup was “liquid gold” to most folks, especially Mom and Dad. For us, my brother and I, it created golden memories and sweet tales.