Hey Everyone, welcome back to Coffee Talk Saturday.
This morning we headed out to Elsie’s Creek Sugar Shack for some pancakes, maple syrup and tour of the maple trees. It is maple syrup season again here in Southern Ontario. Every year when spring is upon us the sap in hundreds of thousands of maple trees all over Ontario and Quebec are tapped to make what Canada is known for – Maple Syrup.
At Elsie’s Creek there are about 750 trees tapped with a tap – true there is a little tap in each tree (sometimes even two or three if it is a big tree) hooked up to a hose that feeds by gravity to a tank or bucket to collect the sap. Some of the trees are not hooked up to the hose system though, and have a bucket that the tap drips into instead. Each tree, if the conditions are right, will produce about 40 litres of sap and from this 40 litres only one litre of maple syrup is produced.
The conditions need to be below zero at night and at zero or above during the day so that the sap will flow. In fact, the sap needs to flow up and down the tree – hence why the freeze-thaw cycle is so important. Once the temperatures stay above freezing and the trees start to bud, the flavour turns and the season is over.
Syrup production is heavily influenced by the weather conditions. Ideal conditions are a regular temperature fluctuation above and below freezing with lots of snow on the ground. A good year at Elsie’s Creek Sugar Shack can be as much as 1000 litres from 700-750 trees and a tough year, like last year, can be as low as a couple hundred litres.
Some sugar shacks have everything automated and the sap is delivered through hoses right to the evaporator but not at Elsie’s Creek. Here Carl, Rebecca and the boys collect all the sap by hand and deliver it to the evaporator in big tanks pulled by either a snowmobile or ATV depending on the amount of snow on the ground. This year a snowmobile is being used. When the sap is flowing well, it’s a 24/7 operation as the tanks and pails fill fast!
Carl told me about one year (a thousand litre year) where the sap was flowing so fast he ran out of storage in front of the evaporator, so he had to pull his canoes down from the ceiling of the shack so he could use them for sap storage! Don’t worry – all that boiling in the evaporator purifies anything that shouldn’t be there.
The evaporator is where all the magic happens. The Campitelli’s have a two stage, wood fired, evaporator to do the heavy lifting. Raw sap is loaded into the back of the evaporator and evaporated until the specific gravity of the sap reaches a certain point for it to be transferred into the front pans where it evaporates some more. The front pans are monitored very closely and when the temperature hits the perfect point, the syrup is drawn off and transfered to the finishing evaporator.
The finishing evaporator is a much smaller, gas fired, evaporator which can be very closely controlled and monitored. As the water evaporates off, the syrup thickens and the sugar content goes up which raises the boiling temperature. At the perfect temperature the syrup is finally finished and transferred through a filter into a bottling tank.
The very, very best maple syrup is the stuff straight out of the tank. Mmm, mmm, good!
Every year, our friend, Diana Monteith, a local ReMax realtor, sponsors a pancake and syrup day at Elsie’s Creek as a way of giving back to the community. Diana runs the day, making pancakes for everyone and handing out 250mL bottles of yummy maple syrup.
Visiting the sugar shack today was a great little break with wonderful people, pancakes and maple syrup of course – now back to the sewing machine as I have art quilts to finish.