From sap to syrup: the story behind a breakfast staple
Stephen Clark shows how he makes maple syrup on his property in Colchester County
March 12, 2017, 10:56 pm ASTLast Updated: March 12, 2017, 10:56 pm
It goes on pancakes, french toast and even bacon. Maple syrup is a breakfast staple, and with the first day of spring one week away, sugar farmers are in the middle of syrup season.
Stephen Clark has been making his own syrup for three years. The Signal visited Clark on his property in Whittenburg, Colchester County, on Saturday to find out what it takes to produce this classic Canadian condiment.
The first step is collecting sap — a lot of it.
“We find the earlier in the year you collect it, the sweeter it tastes,” said Clark who makes syrup as a hobby and gives it away during the holidays.
Clark collected over 115 litres of sap before boiling it on Saturday. It took five days to collect the sap from the 27 red maple trees tapped around his property. After a whole day of boiling, Clark will have almost two full litres of syrup.
During the collection process, the sap pours out of the tree and into a bucket from a tap screwed into the tree. It was -15 C° on Saturday, so it was frozen. Clark will have to wait for the temperature to rise for it to thaw and flow from the tree again.
The cold temperatures also forced Clark to move his hand-crafted sap boiler into his shed.
Clark boils the sap using a furnace he made from a repurposed metal drum. The trays are held over the fire while a chimney on the back of the drum allows the smoke to escape. Clark said it cost $150 for the supplies.
Clark watched the boil all day, occasionally spooning off excess foam forming at the top. Steam billowed from the trays filling the shed with a thick, sweet, maple-scented fog.
“It’s like filling your nose with cotton candy,” said Clark.
When sap comes out of the tree, it’s clear and watery; it only turns a thick, golden syrup when it is boiled. Clark said it takes roughly 12 hours of boiling to get it to this state.
Boiling sap has become a tradition for Clark, who has been making syrup for his family and friends for three years. Clark and his partner, Diana Pinsent, pass the hours by bundling up and enjoying some drinks while they wait.
“It always boils better when you have a beer in your hand,” said Clark.
As a self-proclaimed sweet tooth, Clark loves putting syrup on french toast. Drinking it straight from the bottle isn’t so bad either, he said.