Warmer weather welcomed by local maple syrup tappers
PHOTO BY JAMES PARRY
How sweet it is for longtime Como maple syrup tapper, Michael Elliott, who received a welcome helping hand collecting sap this week from his two grandsons, 12-year-old Ryan Cutler visiting from Anguilla in the Eastern Caribbean (left) and 7-year-old Finlay 'Finbar' Elliott who lives in St. Lazare.
This past week's unseasonably warm weather is proving to be a boon for the many non-commercial 'backyard' maple syrupers in our region. The sap is flowing, the boilers are burning and - unlike last year which was disappointing for producers in the area - it promises to be a bumper harvest for the liquid gold.
“Right now, the weather is ideal,” said Hudson resident Michael Elliott who, for decades together with his brother Lorne, has been tapping sugar maples on their property on Turtle Pond Lane in Como to share with family and friends. “And there is no question that we are one or two weeks ahead of previous years.”
Those ideal conditions, he explained, being overnight temperatures of -5° C and the same above during the day, preferably with lots of sunshine.
“The season is usually quite short,” added Elliott. “About a week or 10 days as a rule. And once the sap starts flowing, the quicker you boil and can it, the better.”
Considering that, generally, the ratio of sap to syrup for the sugar maple is 40 to 1 (40 gallons of sap yielding one gallon of syrup), that is a lot of sap to be collected in buckets attached to the trees before hauling it off to the boiler, sometimes more than once a day. And once it starts, you cannot stop so as to not waste any of the precious liquid which is actually 90 percent water.
Then there is what Elliott describes as the 'knack' only acquired after years of trial and error and learning from experience. “We used to tap over 400 trees,” Elliott told The Journal this week while taking a brief break from the boiling in the family sugar shack. “But now we have downsized to about 50. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the process and technique.
“First of all, there are no additives. Then the ideal boiling temperature for syrup is 105° C, for toffee 110° C, and for hard sugar 115° C. It's all a question of chemistry and rather like trying to create a perfect soufflé in the kitchen. Timing is everything.”
Asked why he continues tapping his trees when one can buy cans of syrup in stores throughout the region with a lot less hassle, Elliott, who turned 78 years young this week, smiles. “It's part of Quebec's heritage, first introduced to the early settlers as a gift by the Indigenous people already here. It's also great exercise out in the open air and the whole family can get involved. And, for sure, it tastes just great all year long.”