Hunting for Maple Syrup

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. There’s lots of weird and wonderful things to see and eat but can you find the prize?

Today, I had the opportunity to visit the Little Cataraqui Conservation Centre’s ‘Maple Madness’ event and see how maple syrup is collected and made. Another International office trip, by the way!

A yellow school bus took 20mins to reach the conservation area which consists of miles of woodland, bogs and lakes. The coach dropped us off and we hopped on a tractor and cart which took us through the woodland consisting of maple trees. The driver was trying out for formula 1 I think, we swerved round the bends like we were on a race track or being pursued by the police.

The fastest mode of transport in the east

When we fell off the cart (I’m only joking) we realised it must be time to begin walking and so commenced our walking tour of the maple bush, trekking our way throught the maple woodland. We were able to see how maple sap was previously collected in comparison to the new modern methods. Previously, a hole would be made in the trunk of a maple tree and a bucket would be placed underneath to catch the dripping sap. Now, a tube is inserted into the trunk and the trees are connected by a series of plastic pipes and tubes which run to a large vat.

old method

new-fangled method

In the old method the collected sap would then be carried and poured into a hollowed out tree trunk which would have a roaring fire underneath and so the boiling of the sap to create syrup would begin. The tree trunk has been replaced now by a metal vat which is heated up by a wood-burning stove and boiler situated inside a wooden shack or better known as the sugar shack.

We followed the sweet smell of cooking and made our way to the sugar shack which was situated in the centre of the woods. The shack sold maple products and hot drinks but best of all hot pancakes dripping in warm maple syrup. So needless to say we chowed down quick. Was a very odd experience to be eating a pancake in the middle of the woodland.

the prize and treasure

This was my first time properly trying maple syrup and it was not as sweet as I expected, quite a mild flavour and similar-ish to honey. In the cold weather it was quickly devoured by all.

The sugar shack - that's where it's at (the whole afternoon I had the song 'Love Shack' in my head but with the words 'Sugar Shack' instead, so 'sugar shack, baby sugar shack')

Again, on the trip I met a lot of new people who I’ve arranged to meet up with soon. These trips are really social and I get to meet students from departments I’d never have the chance to interact with otherwise. It was also good to see the beautiful countryside just outside Kingston, I’ve found that the whole area is just a huge mix of different traditions and mini differing landscapes.

Random fact: the maple syrup can only be collected for a short period of time (a month at the most) and so the maple syrup farmers are diversifying. So what is the first thing you’d think a maple syrup farmer would think are viable options?  growing a different crop? breeding animals?

nope, they went ‘aha. I know   . . .  bingo and singles nights, that will get the crowds rolling in.’

So, you can go to a wooden shack in the middle of the wood, to play bingo or find love –  the shack literally transforms into a ‘love shack’ and apparently it’s very popular!

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