How sweet it is
If there’s one sure sign of spring, it’s the start of maple syrup production in the bushes across Southwestern Ontario.
Making of maple syrup traces its roots back to the Indigenous people of Canada. When white settlers arrived, they adopted this tradition and refined it. Today, many farm operations make maple syrup as a sideline and there are also large operations which focus entirely on maple syrup.
Brad Buchwald is one of the part-time operators on the 20 acres he has outside Simcoe. Although not a farmer, that is his heritage and how he learned about maple syrup. Growing up, his father was the minister in the Hartford Baptist Church, just east of Boston.
“We made syrup in our garden to start and hung coffee cans on the maple trees in the front yard,” he recalled of his childhood.
Buchwald started making syrup on his sister’s farm, using an evaporator he made himself. Then, he moved to his current farm on the 8th Concession of Charlotteville in 2016. Initially he started with buckets but then put a pipeline in four years ago and purchased a new evaporator, which he said changed everything. Josh Jansen assisted with setting this up.
With the pipeline system, trees are tapped higher than with buckets so gravity can assist with sap transportation. A 5/16-inch line is connected to the taps, which run into a one-inch main line. The one-inch line runs to an extractor, which is connected to a stainless-steel holding tank. When the sap reaches a certain level in the extractor, it’s discharged into the tank. From that tank, a vacuum pump moves the sap into another stainless-steel holding tank on the roof of the building where the evaporator is. From the tank on the roof, there is 1.5-inch line that runs to the evaporator.
“When it gets low, the valve opens automatically and allows more sap to come into the fluted pan,” Buchwald explained.
The fluted pan in the evaporator is the first of three pans. The fluting is similar to zig-zags on the bottom and increases the surface that is heated by the fire. This is important as it takes 55 liters of sap to make one liter of syrup so getting the most heat on the sap is important, and the sap-to-syrup increases as the season progresses. From the fluted pan, the sap moves to two finishing pans to have more water removed. In the last of these, when the temperature reaches 7˚ Fahrenheit above boiling, a drain opens to let the finished syrup go into a milk can for storage after passing through a filter. Then, the syrup is reheated to 180-185˚F with propane heaters before being bottled.
Buchwald is a member of the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association and has to produce his syrup to the organization’s standard. This means the syrup he produces must meet standards. One of those standards is assessing the grade of the syrup based on colour: light, amber, dark and extra dark. As the colour gets darker, so too does the flavour. Most of Buchwald’s syrup is either amber or dark. The colour is judged by using a meter that lets light through to assess colour.
All of Buchwald’s syrup is in 500 mL bottles and is either sold on the Internet or to friends.
With only about 30 per cent of his bush tapped, Buchwald has room to expand. He doesn’t, however, have time. He worked at Stelco for 31 years, taught technology at Conestoga College and has been driving truck four days a week for Hewitt’s Dairy the last seven years. He considers maple syrup a family endeavor, giving credit to his wife Darlene, and their sons, Benjamin, Zachary and Adam for helping. His cousin Bruce Kuehl and friend Ron Cullimore also help.
“My system is large enough I could get bigger but right now we’re maxed out for time,” he said. “I could never do it without help and family.”