Celebrating the first tapping of maple syrup season

Par Raymond Berthiaume
Celebrating the first tapping of maple syrup season
first tapping maple sap

A celebration for the first tapping of the season took place March 11 at the Sand Road Maple Farm in Moose Creek, with dignitaries representing both the federal government, and the regions of Prescott-Russell and Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry attending. Almost 50 people showed up for the annual celebration, which proved a very pleasant surprise for Jules Rochon, president of the Eastern Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (EOMSPA).

“I was surprised,” said Rochon, during a later interview. “Usually we have between 10 to 20 people.”

The first tapping of the maples for the sap that will become maple syrup is a tradition that dates back centuries, begun by the First Nations people and maintained through the years as a celebration of the coming spring.

“It’s a celebration of the sap flowing,” said Rochon, “a celebration of what Mother Nature gives us.”

At the Sand Road sugar bush, noted Rochon, the celebration focused on a simple welcome to all those attending the event and a gathering around a fire circle to give thanks for another year of the flowing of the maple sap. Following the official ceremony, a half dozen nearby sugar maples were tapped, and several of the attendees shared the fun of collecting some of the first harvest of maple sap in the collection buckets.

“After that we enjoyed a proper cabane à sucre lunch,” said Rochon, adding that everyone enjoyed their helpings of fresh country-fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon, and pancakes.

Sugar maple lore

While most people think that the sugar maple is the only tree that produces the sap used to make maple syrup, Rochon noted that there are four types of maple tree capable of producing maple sugar sap. The sugar maple and the black maple are the best producers of sugar sap, but the red and silver maples can also provide sap for maple syrup, though not is great a quantity as the black and sugar maples.

Rochon should know. He has 25 acres of sugar bush of his own to manage in the Hammond area of Clarence-Rockland. Most of the trees within his sugar bush are red maple but about 10 per cent of them are sugar maple. Like many maple syrup producers in Eastern Ontario, most of the sap he collects is sold to the big maple syrup companies, but he also keeps some for himself to produce his own unique brand of maple syrup for sale from his home and at farmers’ markets and country fairs.

“And every sugar bush has its own taste of maple syrup,” Rochon said, adding that the character of the soil where the maples grow and other factors have an influence on the sap produced for maple syrup. “Making maple syrup is both a science and an art combined.”

He smiles as he observes that operating a sugar bush “is extremely good for your mental health.”

Although the celebration of the first tapping of the maples is over, there are still two more major events scheduled for this spring and in autumn to honour Eastern Ontario’s maple syrup culture and traditions. First is Maple Weekend in April, when most sugar bush operators welcome visitors to their properties to demonstrate how maple trees are tapped for sap and also explain how the sap is then boiled and rendered into maple syrup.

In autumn, when the leaves start to change colour, is when Fall in Love with Maples takes place from the last week of September through the first week of October.

“It’s a nice time to go out for a drive and see people and the countryside,” said Rochon.

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