We certainly haven’t been short of weather events this winter. For those of us locals who were tapping maple last winter, frowns have turned to smiles this year. Most winters, it’s not too hard for our family to collect a couple thousand litres of maple sap. Last winter was our worst ever for sap production. That December a snow event occurred before there was a high water table, then after the snow came rain and clouds, but not enough sunshine to trigger a good sap run. The sap we did collect was low sugar and made very dark molasses-like syrup that we weren’t proud of.
Our first winter cold snap this season was also in December and it gave a decent sap flow but the days were still quite short. The second freeze-up of this winter occurred in early January and gave ideal tapping conditions. In three days, we brought in close to 500 litres of sap. Local tappers Ed and Karen, whose model is play big or go home, brought in 2,250 litres of sap in three days. Not only did the sap flow well, but the sugar content was good and the flavour was wonderful.
Each day during the tapping season, we receive e-mailed sap reports from locations stretching from southern Oregon to northern Vancouver Island. There are about 120 people on the e-mail system, some are beginners and others are veteran gumboot West Coast maple tappers. Lately, the topic of choice is who has the fastest sap flow from one tree. Currently the record holder was a tree three years ago that gave almost 100 litres in 48 hours.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, many of us will be coming together to put on the fourth annual Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival in Duncan at the BC Forest Discovery Centre. As usual, there will be tours, tapping demonstrations, slideshows, music, train rides and much more. Many of us will have syrup for tasting and for sale. Maple-themed food will be on the lunch menu, plus there will be maple fudge and other goodies available for purchase. Those wanting to buy tapping supplies won’t be disappointed either.
Syrup making is a bit like wine making, insofar as you can make good syrup or you can make really good syrup. Each year, respected culinary experts put on their judge’s hats to smell, swirl, and taste the 40 or 50 big leaf maple syrup entries. Although the best I’ve ever managed to do was win second, my wife, Teesh, won a first-place one year in the light category.
Maple tapping is easy. Not all local maples are good producers, but if you have three average producing trees, you can make about four litres of syrup each year. The equipment needed will cost less than $10, if you can scrounge up an 11mm (7/16”) drill. Once you get started, you’ll find yourself checking the weather forecast daily and you will probably walk your sap line much more often than you need to. It can become very addictive in a good way.
Making syrup is also easy. Take your sap, boil it until it’s sweet enough to suit your taste and you’re done. You can even do it inside on the kitchen range, but you will have to boil down about 45 litres of sap to get one litre of syrup and the 44 litres that become steam can be a bit hard on your wallpaper. I’ve skipped some of the fine points but you can learn many of those at www.blmaple.net. You can learn more about the festival at http://www.bcforestmuseum.com/. Here’s hoping for more snow and cold temperatures.