There are a lot of different types of maple trees – at least 128 species. Some grow better than others. Some are a harder wood, making them ideal for use on bowling alley floors, while others are considered a weed maple because they grow too big, too fast and too soft.
There’s the silver maple, the red maple, the Manitoba maple, the Japanese maple, sycamore or Scottish maples and the list goes on. But perhaps the most popular maple tree is the sugar maple, common to eastern Canada and northeastern United States.
The official tree of Canada, this sturdy maple tree produces a sap each spring that is higher in sugar than the sap from any other species of maple tree. It’s the sap that makes this tree so special.
Our Sugar Maple Trees
When we first moved to the country, I was delighted to notice that our property was home to several sugar maple trees. There were other maple trees as well, specifically the Manitoba maple. However, it was unruly, large and toppled over, precariously close to the house, during violent winter storms.
I was fascinated with the idea of having my own plot of sugar maples. Was this the time to start a traditional cabane à sucre? French Canadian for a “sugar shack” in the woods that specializes in, you guessed it, maple sugar products and the maple sugar experience?
I had the trees, all I needed was to tap them, collect the sap when it started running in late February through March, and sometimes into April, and boil the sap until it became a thick syrup, preferably over a wood fire to save on electricity. Not too difficult, right?
The Process Of Making Maple Syrup
Actually, it’s a rather simple process, when you think of it. The boiling process is the kicker. You have to boil it at the right temperature for many hours until the sap is about 1/35th of its original volume. It’s not something you can do in the house. Well, I suppose you could, but you would have a very sticky mess to clean up.
Have you ever boiled syrup for candy? The steam emitted creates a very sticky substance that coats anything and everything nearby. Imagine boiling a sticky, sweet syrup for hours, even days. You’ll be cleaning up the mess for just as many days after.
What has started out as a simple process of collecting sap, has now become a little bit more complicated. A cabin of sorts is needed, nothing fancy, but someplace where the sticky steam can do its damage without covering the contents of your home.
Consider A Maple Co-Op
Alternatively, you could join a co-op with like-minded neighbors. Perhaps someone already has a cabin for cooking the sap. That’s what we did. A local farmer was tapping the trees in the neighborhood and sharing the finished product.
With several large sugar maples on our property, we could become the proud recipients of a large jug of maple syrup. And the boasting rights to say it came from our trees without the messy process to clean up after.
As it turned out, however, only one of our sugar maples was large enough to tap. The diameter of the tree trunk should be at least 10 inches for one tap. Our lone sugar maple was barely 10 inches in diameter. Additional taps may be inserted for each additional 8 inches in diameter, up to a maximum of four taps for one tree.
With the lone tree identified, the farmer drilled one hole about 2 feet off the ground and about 2 1/2 inches into the tree. He hammered in the metal spout, from which he hung a large emptied and cleaned plastic pop bottle – recycling at its best. We were in business.
For the next six weeks, or however long the weather obliged, the farmer came and emptied the container every morning and took it away for boiling.
As I drove around the countryside, I was amazed at the number of tapped trees on people’s front yards. Even the local church, with its century-old sugar maples, was tapped.
Reaping The Benefits Of Our Maple Trees
We had a good season that first year. It began late February and continued into April. The ideal conditions to make the sap flow are -10°C at night and just above 0°C in the day. The sap flowed well and it was considered a good year for maple syrup.
We avoided the sticky mess as we learned the process. With only one usable tree, we had a few years ahead of us before we would be ready to collect the sap and produce our own maple syrup. In the meantime, we helped out, from the collecting to the boiling over a wood stove in a cabin, away from the farmer’s house. And we enjoyed the fruits, or should I say, syrups of our labors.
It was well worth the effort and we certainly stocked up on the farmer’s supply, lining our larder with jugs of maple syrup and maple sugar. With growing concerns over the use of refined cane sugar and the need to consider healthier, more natural sweeteners, maple syrup and maple sugar is something worth considering.
A Healthier Sweetener
Maple syrup is considered to be one of healthiest foods available. It contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey and many other sweeteners. Two teaspoons of maple syrup has only 34 calories (1 percent of the daily value). It also contains 22 percent of the daily value of manganese and 3.6 percent of zinc, all important nutrients for the body and particularly beneficial for the heart and the immune system.
If you can’t harvest your own, there are ways and means of obtaining maple syrup and maple sugar products to use in your cooking and baking. I have long since converted, and even though our single sugar maple tree doesn’t make a big supply of the product, I purchase and always keep on hand a substantial supply for my cooking and baking needs.
Maple Salmon And Asparagus
- 4 salmon steaks (fresh or frozen)
- 16 spears asparagus
- 12 mini potatoes (white, yellow or red)
- 1/2 c. maple syrup
- Lightly grease a large 9 x 12-inch flat glass casserole with extra light olive oil. Lay out the salmon steaks.
- Cut off the ends of the asparagus and wash well. Lay beside and around the salmon.
- Wash the mini potatoes and distribute evenly around the salmon and asparagus.
- Pour the maple syrup over everything.
- Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 40 minutes, or until salmon is tender and flaky.
- Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.
Maple Cinnamon Bread
- ¾ c. warm water
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tsp. yeast
- ½ tbsp. extra light olive oil
- 2 ¼ c. all purpose flour
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- 2 tsp. extra light olive oil
- ½ c. finely ground maple sugar
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- In a large glass measuring cup add yeast to warm water and maple syrup. Let rise 5 minutes. Add ½ tablespoon extra-light olive oil.
- In a large mixing bowl, measure flour and sea salt. Make a well in the center.
- Add liquid mixture and stir well until too hard to work with the spoon.
- Add flour as needed and continue kneading by hand.
- Place dough in a large bowl. Cover with a slightly damp cloth. Place in a warm place free from drafts and let rise for 1½ hours.
- Meanwhile, prepare one loaf pan by greasing with extra-light olive oil and dusting with flour (or line loaf pan with parchment paper).
- Once the dough has risen, move to a floured surface and knead again for a couple of minutes.
- With a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll dough into a large rectangular shape. Brush with 1 teaspoon extra-light olive oil. Sprinkle with half of the maple sugar and cinnamon.
- Roll tightly and seal ends. Place in prepared loaf pan.
- Brush the top with remaining 1 teaspoon extra-light olive oil and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup of maple sugar.
- Cover again with the slightly wet cloth and place in a warm place free from drafts. Let rise for another hour.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove to a cooling rack and let cool for about 20 minutes. Makes one loaf.
Maple Chocolate Chip Cookies
- ¾ c. extra light olive oil
- ¾ c. finely ground maple sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 c. all purpose flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. cream of tartar
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- ¾ c. semisweet chocolate chips (I use the soy-free, dairy-free variety)
- Blend first three ingredients. Add flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and sea salt. Mix well.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Grease a cookie sheet with extra-light olive oil.
- Roll cookie dough into small balls and place on prepared cookie sheet. Flatten with fingers.
- Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 7-10 minutes or until lightly brown.
- Remove to a cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen.
Chocolate-Covered Maple Shortbread
- ¾ c. extra light olive oil
- ¾ c. maple syrup
- 2 c. all purpose flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I use the soy-free, dairy free variety)
- Cream together extra-light olive oil and syrup.
- Blend in flour, baking soda and sea salt.
- Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with fingers.
- Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 13 to 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and carefully place 6 to 8 chocolate chips on top of each cookie while they are still hot.
- When chocolate is glossy and soft, spread with a knife.
- Remove to a rack to cool. Makes 2 dozen cookies.