A visit to my parent's home in Muskoka this past weekend coincided with the annual running of the maple sap, the short period when temperatures climb above freezing during the day and fall back below again at night that heralds every year the end of the long, cold and dreary Muskoka winter. As a child, the beginning of the Muskoka spring was a special time when my brother and I put on our winter boots and tramped about helping our folks to gather the clear sap from the hard sugar maples scattered among the beeches, cherries, oaks, birches and hemlocks of their hilly 95-acre wooded property. Turning the bountiful sap into pure delicious home-made maple syrup was an annual treat! It's been a thirty year tradition in my family, and although I've missed out on the occasion for many years now since I moved to London, I was fortunate to once again help with the syrup … even if I mostly just stood around taking photographs, enjoying the tantalizing aroma of boiling sap, and asking questions so that I could share the process and experience with my readers.
When the sap has been reduced and starts to thicken, a thermometer is added to the mix. As the sap concentrates, the boiling point rises. Finished syrup boils at 7° Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water, and as the temperature of the boiling sap approaches this point, the boiling is carefully watched to prevent burning and overheating. The maple syrup is done when the temperature reaches 218° Fahrenheit — but that's the temperature for our sugarbush, as the boiling point varies with altitude and barometric pressure, so sugarmakers should always check the boiling point of water when they're making syrup and add 7° to find out when their syrup is done.
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I just brought some home with me, and I can't wait to try it again. Commercial syrups simply don't compare with the real thing — they're usually made with corn syrup, artificial flavors and additives, and only sometimes with a little real maple syrup. I think I'll whip up some of my famous oatmeal apple pancakes this weekend and pour on some fresh real maple syrup. I'll make sure to pass on the recipe.