Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Maple Syrup Story

This is an old post from an old blog but it's important to me so I want it here.

When I was young, probably less than 10 years old, I learned that maple syrup came from maple trees. I was told the sap was just basically watery maple syrup and it was boiled to get rid of the water and make it thick. I had already learned that some berries(wild raspberries) were good to eat and others were to be avoided. I had learned that certain plants like mint and horsetail could be brought home to make tea. I was excited to learn of a new nature-food. With this idea in mind one fine spring morning, I went out to experiment.

I picked a young leaf off the first maple I found and watched the white sap well up at the break. I was expecting a clear liquid so I became extra cautious. Remembering the awful bitterness of the white sap from dandelions I sniffed the sap to see if I could smell any trace of the delicious maple syrup scent... nothing. It just smelled like a leaf. Very carefully I touched the sap with a finger to pick up a tiny bit, then smeared it on my hand in the thinnest layer I could. Slowly, carefully, I stuck out my tongue and gently licked the edge of the smear.  
BLEEHK!  Nasty and bitter, just like the dandelion. I tossed down the leaf and spit the nasty taste out of my mouth. I wasn't discouraged though because I knew that some parts of a plant could be tasty when the others were gross. I just had to find where the good sap was and I'd be up to my ears in all the sweets I could handle.  Peeling small twigs produced the same white sap, I wasn't about to taste it. 

A vague memory of sap taps came to mind and I scoured the area for something sharp to dig into the bark with. A short search produced a pointy flat rock. I used it as a drill to make a small hole at waist level on the main trunk. It took time but I was young and I had all day. Soon I had a small hole about an inch across and half as deep. Staring at the hole I waited for something to happen, I knew I had got past the bark and into the actual wood, and I was starting to wonder if I needed a special tool to get all the way to the core when I spotted a liquid starting to well on the edges of the hole.

Eagerly, I scooped some of the sawdust ridden sap and popped it in my mouth... Big mistake. After that round of spitting I felt bad for damaging the tree that was obviously not going to produce what I was looking for and covered the hole with some leaf bits, sticking them to the sap in an effort to bandage it and prevent bugs or infections getting in.

Disappointed I returned home without my prize. Later when I found out that only certain types of maples are used for syrup I understood what happened and realized there was no way I could tell the types apart with accuracy and gave up the search. Much later in life I learned that taping is done in the middle of winter and even sugar maples have gross sap once the leaves come in.  Things like this help me remember learning is a life long process.