Field Trip: Sugar Bush

Since our very first Field Trip, I’ve been looking forward to this excursion. I have fond childhood memories of the trip out to the sugar bush. The best part was always the maple syrup taffy. Pouring it on the snow and rolling it up onto a popsicle stick. It was always the first sign of spring and the main event that brought everyone out of their winter hibernation.

Maple syrup is a staple in our household. It is one of our natural and local sweeteners and replaces the sugar in many of my recipes. But once you see the work that goes into making maple syrup you are more likely to savour every drop of this liquid gold.

The Austin family are friends of ours, and they started tapping the maples in their neighbour’s forest last year. Starting out with 30 trees and a very resourceful, back-to-basics set-up, they got their feet wet in maple syrup. Figuratively. Even though last year wasn’t the best for syrup, it couldn’t have been that bad because they are back at it again, and at a much larger scale.

The sugar shack was built by their neighbour’s late husband. She graciously allows the Austins to continue an amazing tradition and tap the maples. This year they have around 75 trees tapped, and even though the sap wasn’t running fast this weekend, Wayne said there have been days when the pails are filled and overflowing in just a few hours.

Jesse’s dad gave Wayne a salvaged stainless-steel drip pan from an old canning factory that closed down years ago in Simcoe, Ontario. Wayne uses it as a big boiler that really distributes the evaporation. It’s held in place by a mixture of some old steel posts and scrap metal from a nearby abandoned railroad spur.

Wayne, Charlene and their son Josh head out to their sugar bush around 8 in the morning and spend the day back there stoking the fire and boiling down the sap until about 5. It’s incredible to see the amount of sap that Wayne seems to be continually adding. In a given day they will boil around 100 gallons of sap. Once it’s about 90% done, they finish it on a more controlled propane burner and boil it down to the final 2 gallons.

Maple syrup’s 40:1 boiling ratio is pretty incredible and labour-intensive. I used to feel that maple syrup was a bit expensive, but next time I pick some up, I’m going to feel like I’m greatly underpaying.

Check out this site to find farm gate maple syrup, a pancake house or a maple syrup festival near you before the season ends.

2 comments

  • March break and “sugaring off” will always be linked for me – as a kid my parents always brought us out to the bush for one of our March break activities.
    At the time I may have been envious of the kids going down to Florida, but looking back I appreciate these kind of trips way more :)

  • I remember my parents taking us up to the purple woods conservation area north of Oshawa and we'd sit in that old cabin eating pancakes while they boiled down the stuff in the corner. I think I need to go there again and see if the smell of it rings a bell.

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