By chance, I was first inspired to learn how to tap trees for maple syrup while barreling down the Interstate 49 on my way to Houston. It was March 2015, and as was usual on my drive home from weekend climbing trips, I tuned into my favourite Sirius satellite radio channel 169: CBC Radio. (I like to imagine the entire Canadian diaspora in America doing this on their drives home.) On this particular day, a replay of The Vinyl Cafe was on and the late Stuart McClean was telling a story of ‘ol Morley and the gang making maple syrup. "Unapologetically Canadian," I thought as I listened. And before long I was captivated. Stuart droned on in that voice of his like he’s been drinking maple syrup all life. Images of the spring thaw in maple forest, steaming maple sap in wooden sugar shack, the quiet wilderness landscapes of the North. I didn’t know it at that time but a powerful force was underway - the pull of home. I couldn't know it then, but that force would eventually bring me back to Canada, where almost exactly a year later I'd be driving down the TCH with a gallon of maple sap in the back seat on my way home to boil it down into my very first batch of maple syrup.
When to tap
The time to tap is during the first weeks of spring. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but what you want to look for is daytime temperatures reaching above freezing and the nighttime temperatures dipping back below freezing. It’s this daily freeze-thaw that effectively pumps maple sap within the trees' trunks, since the flow of sap is driven by pressure changes associated with the freeze-thaw cycle. Here in Canada a good indicator of when it’s time to tap trees might be when you see those first people wearing shorts on a sunny 1 degree day. It's not only long frozen thoughts of summer time that are being thawed out - it's the sap in the maples, too. Time to tap them!
Some things you'll need before tapping
Finally, check out what’s happening in the maple-tapping community by visiting your local farmer’s market during the spring or by checking out syrup-themed community events. If you’re in St. John’s like me, then you can’t miss the 3rd annual Pippy Park Maple Syrup Festival on April 2nd, which will have activities and demonstrations for the young and old, newbies and experts alike. If you’re going, I’ll see you there.
Written by Erik Veitch. Send me an email or comment below.
Edited by Michael Lee. Thanks, Mike!
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.