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Canadian Maple Syrup Research Essay

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Canadian Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is one of Canada's proudest trades. There is a significant history in the production and distribution of it in Canada. There are many elements and special concerns to the production of maple syrup, such as the quality of the sap and how it is retrieved, processing, trade, and exports. It is important to Canada because the maple leaf is a symbol for our country and defines our culture, and maple syrup is a product made right from nature. The rich and distinct taste proves it to be a staple in Canada to the people and economy today.

Canada's native peoples had been making a dark sugar from the sap of maple trees long before European settlers arrived. In the spring, the Aboriginals would make a diagonal incision in the trunk of a tree and insert a strip of bark into the lower end of the cut to make a spile, which acts as spout to direct the sap. The sap was collected in birchbark containers and then poured into hollow logs. Heated rocks were then placed in the sap to heat it and evaporate it. Slowly the sap would become syrup and eventually sugar. Early European settlers learned from the Aboriginals how to make maple syrup out of the sap and the skills were passed down from generation to generation (Chapeskie & Henderson, 2007).

The Europeans took what they learned from the Aboriginals and evolved the methods, using the tools they had brought from Europe. To make sugar and maple syrup the European settlers would puncture holes in maple trees with tools called augers and drain the sap using wooden spiles and buckets, which was the first version of the bucket system that some small syrup farms and hobbyists still use today. Once the sap was collected, they would boil it in iron kettles until a sugary syrup was left. The production of maple syrup was important to the European settlers because it was used as a standard sweetener until about 1875 (Chapeskie, 2005).

Over the years, the equipment used for this has greatly improved making it easier and more available for farmers to make use of this natural resource. In the 1990's, small "health spouts" became commercially available. These spouts help increase the health of the maple trees and they are used by many maple producers today. When buckets are used for sap collection, sap is gathered by hand in pails and then dumped into a large gathering tank. The tank is then pulled to the evaporator house and emptied into to a main storage tank. While some smaller farms and hobbyists still use the bucket system, there was a tubing system invented in the 1950's that would save many big maple producers a lot of time and energy. The tubing system for collecting sap became available in the 1950's and it allowed for a lot more sap with a lot less labour since the workers didn't have to go to each individual tree to collect their sap. There is one wider main tube that smaller tubes connect to, which are hooked up to the tree spiles. Usually with a tubing system there is a vacuum pump which is a pump that helps the sap flow into the evaporator tank. When the bucket system is used, the workers must empty the buckets into a gathering tank by hand and then pull the the tank to the evaporator house. After that they must empty the gathering tank into the storage tank, which can waste a lot of time and be impractical. "The first important piece of equipment came in the 1880's and was a forerunner to today's flue pan evaporator," says Dave Chapeskie (2007). The evaporator has pans with two types of bottoms. One has a rigid bottom (called a "Flue Pan"), and the other has a flat bottom and is called a "Front Pan" (White Meadow Farms, 2010). The flue pan came into use in the early 1900's. It allowed boiling of the sap much quicker because of the deep corrugations in the bottom of the pan. This allowed the fire to make a larger area of contact with the pan. The evaporator's job is to boil out all of the water out of the sap, only leaving a syrup or sugar behind. Once the boiling process is complete, the maple syrup needs to be filtered. The most common way of filtering maple syrup is to use a machine called a filter press. The filter press uses several plates with paper filters pressed between them.

The making of maple syrup is a delicate and tedious process. One must understand how the seasons coincide with the quality of the sap and the process to acquire it. The type of maple tree that is used is also very important to the end product of the syrup. Dave Chapeskie (2005) says in his article, titled The Maple Syrup Industry in Ontario, that there are seven species of maple trees in Ontario but only two are mainly used for maple syrup production. The sugar maple and the black maple are most commonly used because they produce high amounts of sugar in the initial sap which makes for a higher quality and better tasting end result syrup. Red maple and silver maple trees are sometimes tapped when sugar and black maples are few in numbers or are not in the area because the season is significantly longer for production. A maple grove in which the trees are well spaced may grow very large maple trees that will produce large amounts of sap. The best trees for tapping are healthy and undamaged. Unless tapped improperly, the tree will not be harmed from sap extraction. This includes avoiding tapping too small or young of trees and by controlling the number of taps per tree. A maple tree takes about 20 to 80 years to reach tappable size (Chapeskie, 2005). Trees that are cared for and provided with enough space to grow well may reach the recommended tapping size at an earlier age. The weather in Canada is very good for tapping maple trees because the freezing cold weather in the winter months and spring nights allow maple trees to produce large amounts of carbon dioxide gas. This gas forces the sap to flow upward inside the tree during the warmer parts of the day. The sap flows through the outer white coloured wood, called the sapwood. When the sap flows into the sapwood of the tree is when one should start tapping the tree. "At this point, the sap is about 97.5% water, 2.4% sugar and 0.1% minerals, depending on the type of maple tree being tapped. Usually sap sugar content ranges from 2% - 3%," says Dave Chapeskie, Agroforestry Specialist in Ontario (2005). There are different elements that can affect the sap's rate of flow, quantity, and sugar content. Tree species, leaf area, tapping techniques, climatic conditions, and tree health all play a part in the quality of the sap. After processing, the sap is available in four different grades. In the article How to Make Maple Syrup written by Jesse Nivolo (2006), he says that there is a very high water content in the sap, as it takes about forty three gallons (163 litres) of sap to make one gallon (4 litres)



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