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Cooking up maple syrup with Sylvain Cormier

The Forager
by Allison Cooke

Sylvain Cormier and his cooker. (photo: Allison Cooke)When spring begins, energy from the sun increases, days get longer, temperatures rise, growth begins, but most importantly, especially for a maple syrup producer, the ice and snow begin to thaw. For a short time, just a few weeks of the year, these producers, both young and old are enjoying the Canadian tradition of making their own pure, maple syrup. This is also a fun early spring activity, and a great way to get kids involved in learning the value of harvesting their own food.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, which was originally a starch stored in their roots and trunks and then converted to a sugar. Once you find a patch to call your own, you can drill a tap into the tree and catch the sap while it is running. The sugary water is then boiled down and concentrated to make the delicious syrup. Usually you will need 20-50 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup, and it is important to monitor the sap while boiling, or it may crystalize.

To identify a sugar maple, it is best to do so in the summer using the leaves. A maple tree is easy to spot—if the leaf shape looks like it belongs on the Canadian flag, you have likely found a maple tree. If it’s winter, you will want to look for twigs that are narrow, and a brownish red color. You may also notice small buds growing on the twigs, but in opposite directions. As for the bark, it changes as the tree ages, and is usually full of vertical grooves and tends to flake off as the tree gets older. Make sure the trees are large enough to tap. A good rule of thumb is that the tree should be at least 10 inches in diameter. If you tap it too early, you could risk harming that tree.

When you are getting ready for the season, make sure you have all the right tools for both collecting and storing your syrup, such as taps, and buckets to collect the sap. A great idea is to re-use 4 litre milk jugs for storage. These are perfect because they are reused materials, and come with their own lid. It is extremely important to thoroughly clean any container that your sap may come in contact with, it will pick up flavors from your tools and buckets—such as scented soaps, rust, or bleach, so avoid these products when you are cleaning your supplies. If you are storing the syrup year round, mason jars work well, kept out of the fridge and sealed.

Maple Syrup makes a sweet, high calorie, sugary treat, but good news. Maple syrup is also said to have some health benefits! It has various antioxidants, like the ones you find in berries, teas, flax and whole wheat. Pure maple syrup isn’t refined, and is an all-natural product, which makes it more appealing than many other sweeteners.

As the temperature warms up and the snow begins to melt, find that maple in your yard, tap it, and enjoy the all-natural, unrefined sugary treat that can spruce up breakfast table and get you and your family enjoying the process of harvesting your own edibles.

Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on PEI.

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