Maple syrup is a tricky and unpredictable business. What makes for a good year of maple syrup? How have local producers kept up with changing weather patterns? And how much work really goes into all that Canadian Liquid Gold? We simmered on these questions for a while before turning to local maple syrup producers for insight.
“Is It Going to be a Good Season?”
“Ask me at the end of April!” says Terri-Lynn Shaw at Shaw’s Catering. Maple syrup producers are always asked whether it’s going to be a good season, and yet it’s a virtually impossible question to answer. This is because maple sap flow completely depends on daily weather conditions. “We need extended periods of freezing and thawing,” says Ken McCutcheon at McCutcheon’s Maple Syrup. “Ideally, the temperature drops to -5 at night and rises to +5 during the day.” According to Kent Breedon at Breedon’s Maple Syrup, while an extended spring freeze helps to “reset” the trees, long periods of warm nights and warm days spell the end of the maple syrup season. As soon as the leaves start to bud on the trees, the sugar content from the sap dissipates, and the season is officially over.
To Tap, or Not to Tap?
Most agree that the maple syrup season in Simcoe County generally runs from mid-March to early April, but the season is starting earlier and earlier these days. “It’s always been unpredictable but seems to be getting more so with changing weather patterns,” says McCutcheon. Changes in climate are important because they affect when maple syrup producers start tapping their trees; you want to catch the sap as soon as it starts running, but if you tap too early, the holes can dry up. “The decision on when to tap is not getting any easier,” says McCutcheon.
Breedon and Shaw have also noticed significant changes to the maple syrup season. “We’re tapping almost two weeks earlier than when we first started twenty-two years ago,” says Breedon. “Five years ago,” Shaw continues, “It wasn’t normal to make syrup in February. But this is our third spring in a row of making maple syrup in February.” The unpredictability of larger weather patterns (mixed with the unpredictability of the daily forecast) means that local maple syrup producers have had to be very flexible to make the most of the season.
Making Maple Syrup—Yourself!
On top of being an unpredictable crop, making maple syrup requires an incredible amount of work. It takes about forty litres of sap to create one litre of maple syrup—which means for every one litre of syrup, you’ll create about thirty-nine litres of steam. That’s definitely enough to get your wallpaper peeling! So, for all those who are thinking about tapping the maple tree in the backyard, listen to the experts: do not boil the sap in your house.
But if you have some trees you’d like to tap, don’t get discouraged by the amount of work that goes into making maple syrup. “It’s an amazingly simple process,” says Tom Shaw. “All the magic happens in the tree; all you’re doing is getting that sap out and boiling it up as soon as you can.” Breedon adds that amateur maple syrup makers just need to keep their expectations reasonable. “Don’t expect to make ten litres of syrup. It’s a precious commodity and you should feel proud of even making a little bit.” While McCutcheon agrees that
“no syrup is finer than that which you’ve made yourself,” he adds that trying your hand at making maple syrup can help you appreciate the incredible amount of work our local maple syrup makers undertake every spring—all for that precious liquid gold.
Our Favourite Maple Treats
“We like the ultimate Canadian treat: Maple Sugar on Snow.”
KEN MCCUTCHEON, MCCUTCHEON’S MAPLE SYRUP
“People visit from all over to pick up our famous Maple Butter!”
KENT BREEDON, BREEDON’S MAPLE SYRUP
“Our Maple Barbeque Sauce is absolutely delicious.”
TOM SHAW, SHAW’S CATERING
by Emily Bednarz
Breedon’s Maple Syrup
McCutcheon’s Maple Syrup