In the Northern Hemisphere, spring arrived in the wee hours of Saturday, March 20. Lucky for us here in New Brunswick, she brought with her mild temperatures and sunshine. What better way to welcome the season then with a trip to the local maple sugar bush.
Located just outside of Moncton in Stilesville is a complete enclave of syrup producers. Several families collect sap and produce syrup from the stand of sugar maples that cover the hills. Many of the producers offer tours and demonstrations and a short walk through the wooded trails will lead you to all of them.
Most producers have today adapted the more efficient method of attaching a network of tubing from tree to tree to a common vat as a mean to collect the running sap. I personally have a fondness for the old method of the spigot and bucket. The tubing really is not visually appealing, and there is an old-world romance about the simple sap bucket.
Young trees can only supply one bucket....
...while a good, sturdy old maple has enough life in it to supply multiple buckets.
The added benefit of the spigot method is of course that one can place a finger beneath to catch a drip of sap as it falls. If you have never tasted maple sap cold and fresh from the tree, you are truly missing out. It is the purest taste of spring freshness to be found.
Today, all terrain 4-wheelers transport the workers to and fro. Along the trail though, evidence of older transportation methods remain.
Fresh sap deteriorates in quality very quickly and it must be processed the same day that it is collected. Wood fires are always kept going to be sure that precious time is not lost. This means that maple logs must always be kept at hand. Behind the logs you can see some of the blue tubing that makes up the complex maze of the sap collection network.
To turn the sap into syrup requires hours and hours of slow boiling in an evaporator. The evaporator sends billowing clouds of steam up through the towering chimneys, and slowly as the water content is reduced, the syrup thickens and sweetens. This sugar shack chimney is made from welded together metal barrels, which makes for a particularly colourful and cheerful beacon in the midst of the grey tree trunks.
And at the end of the walk, the one treat that is available for only limited days each year - fresh maple taffy. Pouring hot, new syrup onto fresh, clean snow results in a sticky treat that must be very quickly twirled around a stick.
We enjoyed a spring breakfast this morning of pancakes, liberally doused in maple syrup and maple butter.