West Coast Maple Syrup—It Can Be Tapped!
I don’t know about you, but until this year, I always thought that maple syrup was a strictly East coast domain. Perhaps the imagery of a Quebec sugar shack or whimsical pictures of draft horses pulling sleighs through snowy maple trees gave me that impression.
This year, though, I discovered that we can tap trees right here on the West Coast and turn it into maple syrup, sugar, candy, and other goodies. With this year’s focus at the Village tending towards homesteading and crafting, maple sugaring seems to fit right in! Here are some of the basics of sugaring here on the West Coast.
You can get started with some Big Leaf Maple trees (the predominant species on the coast), some inexpensive plastic taps (available at Buckerfields or similar stores), food grade plastic tubing (also available from Buckerfields), and food grade containers for sap collection. For example, the 18L water jugs people use for office water coolers can collect a decent amount of sap while being relatively easy to move. Other than that, you’ll need a big pot and a good extraction fan (or an outdoor cooker such as a propane fryer). The bigger the better.
However, it does take a lot of sap. And time.
Syrup is what’s left once all the water is boiled off the sap. This is a shockingly large amount of water! In the Eastern provinces where Sugar Maples are common, the sugar content in sap is about 4%, and you need about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. Here on the west coast, our sap has just 2–3% sugar content, which means that 60–80 litres of sap are realistically needed to produce just a litre of syrup. What delicious syrup it is, though! Our maples tend to produce a more richly-flavoured, slightly darker syrup, perfect for use both as a glaze for meat or salmon, or drizzling over waffles and pancakes. The other good news is that one tree can produce 60 L of sap in a season (from November–March on the West Coast), so if you have a few trees to tap you can certainly provide enough for your family.
The huge amount of boiling is why sugaring is best done outside, unless you fancy an intense steam bath in your house! One popular method for small-scale use is to use a propane deep fryer. Often used for deep frying turkeys, the large metal pots can hold 30+L of sap and boil down quickly.
Once you’ve done your big boil and have gotten down to a few litres of light amber liquid, it’s time to either freeze your sap until you are ready to make it syrup, or bring it inside. This is so that you can use a smaller pot, further control the heat, and keep a close eye on it. Sap becomes syrup at the moment that the temperature reaches approximately 7 degrees F above the boiling point of water, which is 212F. You’ll want to have a candy thermometer in the mixture and watch for the temperature to reach 219F. At that point you can remove it from the heat, filter it through a felt filter, and pour it into mason jars that have just come out of a boiling water bath. There’s no need to further process, but many suggest turning the jars on their heads or sides to ensure a better seal.
It’s also possible to buy classically-shaped maple syrup jugs or bottles that look like hockey players, maple leaves, or log cabins—it all adds to the Canadiana!
You can stick to sap
If all of the above sounds like far too much work, you can also consider using sap as a water substitute for things like cooking rice or poaching eggs. Thanks to its tree-based filtration system, it is incredibly pure, yet also packed full of vitamins and minerals. While you might notice a slight sweetness to the sap, it’s nothing overpowering—remember only about 2% is sugar. This is one way that we at the Village have used sap in the past. It’s a delicious and healthy way to use this amazing product, which is readily available and renewable. Tapping the tree does no harm to it, and only a tiny fraction of the sap it produces will be collected. It is somewhat akin to a person giving blood.
Sap or syrup, it’s all pretty good for you as well—researchers have found over 20 antioxidants in maple syrup, as well as anti-inflammatory properties and zinc and manganese, which can help fight off the common cold. Plus, it’s just plain delicious, no matter how you use it!
Find out more:
The above is the briefest of introductions into making maple syrup at home here on the west coast. Some of these resources might be helpful if you decide to give it a go yourself, and further research should be done before you tap any trees!