Maple in Muskoka
Cast Iron Kettle Boiling
Do you ever get an exciting idea floating around in your mind, you then share it with your partner who is on the same wave as you and all of a sudden you’re running rapids together? Well, this is how John and I operate pretty much all of the time and this past spring was no exception.
The seed was actually planted years ago, separately and then together. Tapping the trees, hanging buckets, collecting and then boiling the sap until it becomes delicious maple syrup. John's family produced and sold syrup for several years from their sugarbush on Horn Lake, gathering sap in buckets and with the use of lines. As in many families it was a special time of year for grandparents, parents and kids to gather and share in this special harvest. I had tapped a few trees with my kids when they were young, making enough syrup to enjoy with family but later on I was fortunate to have the opportunity to become involved for several seasons with Sugarbush Hill Maple Farm, located just outside of Port Sydney.
It was inevitable that John and I would get back to the sugarbush to make maple syrup. During one of our notorious slow morning coffees a plan began to evolve when John suggested that we boil our sap using traditional cast iron syrup kettles.
And so with a step back in time, the adventure began!
Tapping into History
As the universe would have it, we were involved in a workshop learning about Traditional Snowshoes through Yours Outdoors, with well respected historian, adventurer and local resident, Craig MacDonald. Craig holds a valuable wealth of knowledge about traditional ways and how indigenous people lived on and travelled through this land and its abundant waterways. We got to talking about maple syrup and how he and his family have been kettle boiling for many generations. By the time the sap began to run we had a good flow of helpful advice from our well seasoned advisors, Ron (John's Dad) and Craig. We managed to round up 4 unique, antique kettles within the area ranging from Dwight to Parry Sound to Snug Harbour!
We tapped and hung buckets on just over 110 trees, (maybe just 1 bucket over ) carried sap, often through knee deep snow, split wood and boiled our sap in 3 of our kettles that hung precariously from a double tripod with a ridge pole, above a fire hot enough to melt the boots right off your feet!
As a dreamer at heart, in my head I had the image of our sap buckets hanging on maple trees, catching the dripping sap that we then collected and carried in our pails through the white spring snow, past our neatly stacked fire wood to our big black kettles, while our dogs played around us. This was not quite the reality of our sugar camp. Our firewood was anything but neatly stacked and because we went into this a bit by the seat of our pants, it was also rather wet and involved a lot of cutting and splitting. My idea of pretty photo opportunities deteriorated even more as we required wind shields to retain the heat. So up went the big sheets of tin, but it was the extent of mud that we constantly slopped around in that became deeper by the day that was most amusing. And the dogs love mud!
Our first season boiling using traditional kettles certainly involved a lot of hard work, some long days, and lots of laughs. There is something so special about the gathering of sap gifted by the tree, the connection and time spent in the sugarbush and at the end of this experience, the pride in seeing bottles of maple syrup neatly lined up ready to be savoured. What a wonderful way to celebrate the transition of winter to the awakening of spring!
Muskoka Maple Festival
Wherever there are maple trees there are sugar makers producing maple syrup and celebrating the culmination of the maple harvest. Our family celebrated with a pancake breakfast over the
Easter weekend. In Muskoka the maple harvest is celebrated by an event known as The Maple Trail that leads up to the Maple Festival which is held during the last weekend in April. Local restaurants, bakeries and cafes feature delicious culinary creations featuring locally harvested syrup.
This coming Saturday, April 29th, The Muskoka Maple Festival takes place on the main street of the town of Huntsville.
This free family event has entertainment and food for all ages featuring Maple Producers from the area, maple products and special treats such as Sugarbush Hill’s famous maple cotton candy and their coveted fresh maple glaze donuts made with genuine maple butter. An absolute favourite of mine!
The Rotary Pancake Breakfast with local maple syrup is served from 9am - 1pm. so you can enjoy hot pancakes and maple syrup. Enjoy the talents of buskers and street performers, along with The Canvas Brewing Company’s Beer Garden, live music, and several interactive events. The Sap Run, hosted by the Kiwanis organizes a race for kids that raises funds for local kids in need and is a highlight of the morning festivities. There’s a lot going on during the festival. It’s a really great outing in cottage country during the in between seasons. So come out and join in on the fun. Maybe we’ll see you there. I’ll likely be eating a donut.