Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kemble Maple Syrup Tour

It was a beautiful sunny spring day, if a little cool, and we headed for the Kemble Maple Syrup Tour, a fundraiser for Kemble United Church, up northwest of Owen Sound.  I took enough photos for a week's worth of posts, and we visited 7 different maple syrup operations after a delicious maple-flavoured meal at the church.  But let's start at the end of the story - the maple syrup!

We bought the 2 litre jug of maple syrup from Kemble Mountain Maple Products.  We like it so much that we buy it in larger quantities and just keep a smaller jar (left) in the fridge.  It's a little cheaper that way, so you can use more of it!

To follow its life story, you start in the sugar bush.  Nowadays most producers use tubes to gather the syrup, so the view through the bush looks really strange!  Smaller tubes go to each individual tree.

Larger tubes gather the sap and carry it back to the sugar shack, normally pumped through the tubes by a vacuum pump.  Some operators leave the tubing up all year; others take it down and clean it for storage.

This is the tiny tap that goes in a hole drilled into the tree.  It takes quite a while to retap all the trees for a larger operation every year.  The moderate size operation below has 1100 taps, but they're all on the gentle lower slopes of the Niagara Escarpment, so they flow by gravity with no pump needed.

And this is the sugar shack, a large one that provides for a lot of storage in this end.  Firewood is gathered 2 years ahead usually, so that's a big part of the work.  The architecture, with a raised roof over the evaporator, is very traditional.

Inside, the shiny modern evaporator looks like this, with chimneys for the boiler underneath, a steam pipe for the warming tank, and the open roof for steam from the finishing pans.  About 40 gallons of sap gives you one gallon of syrup, so a lot of water has to be evaporated before you get the syrup.  The upper dome here is the warming tank where the sap starts, the back pan does most of the boiling down, and the two smaller front pans are for finishing the syrup.

It burns a lot of wood!  This operator has put in a forced fresh air feed beneath the boiler, which results in a more complete burn and a hot fire.  But when finishing syrup you need to be VERY careful!  A few seconds at the end makes the difference between beautiful syrup and a black sticky mess!

I naively think of the time involved for the farmer as the 6 weeks or so they spend in the sugar shack, long days of being there at the right moment when it's ready.  But talking to the operators you realize that this is more like a 6 month job than six weeks, once you include the firewood harvest, cutting and splitting, the preparation of taps each year, and the clean-up after, to say nothing of the marketing of the syrup.

And this is an artsy picture of bubbles in the sap tubes that my wife thought was neat, and I probably never would have noticed!

Have you ever visited the sugar bush in April?


14 comments:

  1. That is quite an operation that you visited. I have been to a sugar camp many times in my life from the small family operation to the medium size but not a really large one like this you've shown. Thanks for the tour.

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  2. thanks for the tour through the sugar shack.

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  3. Wow, I always thought it was tapped and drained into a bucket or can below, this is a business so well operated. Down here, the real deal " Canadian Maple Syrup" is in price from $26 for 370ml, 1.9 litres grade B for $89.75, " Spring Tree' grade A, 250ml for $18.95, these are all NZ dollars. Maple Syrup, for me, is the luxury I would like to have every day, thanks for sharing the industry and how it works .

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  4. I've never been to a sugar bush but my husband grew up in N. WI and he has. They still used the buckets when he was a kid - those tubes look very complicated but I suppose save time.

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  5. One year my kids and I visited the NE US in March when the sap was running. We drove into Vermont and visited a farm that was making maple syrup. It was so cool! And the syrup was hands down the best I've ever had!

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  6. Not a product that you see much of over here, so I had no idea how it was produced. Thanks to you I now have some insight into the process and may well hear more over the next week. I take it that you quite like maple syrup.

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  7. No wonder it's so pricey. But there is nothing like real maple syrup, is there. I enjoyed this tour, and your wife has a really good eye for artistic scenes. :-)

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  8. We have a number of commercial operations here, but nothing quite that big. Love the bubbles. I keep wanting to try a little of my own. It's too pricy to buy.

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  9. That is quite an operation. I remember visiting places like this when I was a kid.

    I know the good maple syrup is pricy, but it's more than worth it.

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  10. Locally they were advertising Maple Syrup for $100 a gallon. Thanks for the tour that is one large shack! :)

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  11. Wow that is some operation. Very interesting!!
    No I've never visited.

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  12. ok nevermind the tour, I'm more interested in the maple syrup lol

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  13. 'round here, the sugar season is late February through March. Once we get into April, the sap quality is not good.

    Yes, it takes a lot of energy to sugar. I used to sugar when I was a kid. Boiling sap is easy. Getting the wood put up is a lot of work. Back in my day, we had a small sugar bush so we carried the sap through the woods in 5 gallon buckets.

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  14. Long gone are the days of buckets hanging on trees. Had never heard the term sugar bush. Thanks for another wonder filled post!

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