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From sap to syrup: the story behind a breakfast staple

Stephen Clark shows how he makes maple syrup on his property in Colchester County

5 min read
caption It's so good you can drink it
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption Clark inspects a bucket for sap.
Jennifer Lee

“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.

caption The sap froze and wouldn’t flow on Saturday.
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption Maple scented steam poured out of Clark’s shed on Saturday.
Jennifer Lee

The cold temperatures also forced Clark to move his hand-crafted sap boiler into his shed.

caption Clark warms his hand by the fire that is boiling the sap above.
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption Two metal trays hold the sap Clark harvested.
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption Clark pours the watery sap into a hot tray.
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption Making syrup has become a tradition for Clark.
Jennifer Lee

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.

caption For Clark, beer is an essential component of syrup making.
Jennifer Lee

“It always boils better when you have a beer in your hand,” said Clark.

caption Clark drinks syrup straight from the bottle.
Jennifer Lee

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.

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