I admit it. I am a greenhorn in Canada. In Alaska, a greenhorn is a cheechako. I’m not sure if there is a term here other than tenderfoot or greenhorn. Whatever, I certainly fit the bill.
I willingly showed my ignorance last night with neighbors Rob and Audrey as we spoke about making maple candy. I jokingly said I was disappointed not to see all of my neighbors outside after a snow making maple candy.
Apparently, they’ve never made it themselves! (Shocking!)
They were kind enough not to mock me too much later when I said I thought syrup just came out of a maple tree, ready to eat.
I had no idea that, as Rob says, it takes 20 to 50 liters of sap to make one liter of syrup, depending on its concentration. You have to boil down the sap to get the pure syrup. “Not so!” I declared. “You mean you can’t just carry a stack of pancakes to a tree and turn on the sap tap and get syrup?”
Apparently not. Maple syrup is usually made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, although it can also be made from other maple species, and from birch trees, Rob says. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by boring holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. The sap is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup.
The Algonquians recognized maple sap as a source of energy and nutrition. At the beginning of the spring thaw, they used stone tools to make V-shaped incisions in tree trunks; they then inserted reeds or concave pieces of bark to run the sap into buckets, which were often made from birch bark. The maple sap was concentrated either by dropping hot cooking stones into the buckets or by leaving them exposed to the cold temperatures overnight and disposing of the layer of ice that formed on top. Maple syrup is one of only a few agricultural processes in the Northeast that is not a European colonial import!
Maple syrup is made by boiling between 20 and 50 volumes of sap (depending on its concentration) over an open fire until 1 volume of syrup is obtained, usually at a temperature 4.1 °C (7.4 °F) over the boiling point of water.
Having learned that basic syrup lesson, I thought that this morning I would take advantage of the new snowfall to make some maple candy from the pure maple syrup in my cupboard. Accordingly, I took my trust bottle of maple syrup outside and poured my initial in the snow.
I waited patiently about 10 seconds and then tried to turn it over. But, oddly, it had simply melted into the snow, and crumbled apart. It tasted okay (I mean, it IS maple syrup), but there was no way to lift it from the snow.
Well, Cricket liked it.
Having shown my greenhorn stripes yet again, I went inside to research maple candy making. Well, dang, how did I know that I had to heat the syrup until it formed a sticky mass before pouring it in the snow?
I have so much to learn! But for now, back to watching the snow falling and wishing I had someone here to join me in a snowball fight! (Fortunately, the kids arrive today and tomorrow, so snowball fights are in my future!)