Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Field Trip to a P.E.I. Sugar House

A week ago, the boys and I went on a field trip with our local homeschool co-op to Woodlands Maple Syrup in Woodville Mills, PEI. We had been trying to go for a couple of weeks, but somehow between rain and other circumstances, we ended up going on the very last day of the maple syrup season (a season that only lasts a few weeks, depending on weather.).

Woodlands Maple Syrup sugar house

Our guide began our tour by taking us outside to an old maple tree of over 150 years old. (Most of their trees are not this large.) We all got to taste the sap from the tree. It tasted like sweet water, with a slight plant-like aftertaste.

He drew our attention to the tiny holes in the bark, made by sapsuckers (a type of woodpeckers). He speculated that First Nations people first discovered the sweetness of maple sap because of the insects that were attracted to the sap that came from these holes.

Even MM was interested, and he loved the taste of the sap!

With three children to keep an eye on in the crowd, I didn't hear everything our guide said, but I looked the process up later in my Handbook of Nature Study.
"The starch which is changed to sugar in the sap of early spring was made the previous season and stored within the tree. ...During the latter part of winter, the stored starch disappears, being converted into tree-food in the sap, and then begins that wonderful surging up and down of the sap tide. ...The ideal sugar weather consists of warm days and freezing nights. This change of temperature between day and night acts as a pump." (Handbook of Nature Study, p.630)
Next, our guide gave us all a taste of maple syrup in our little cups. My boys did not enjoy this as much...they found it too sweet to drink straight!

He explained to us that the first maple syrup of the season is very light-coloured, and it gets darker as the season progresses. He didn't explain why, but my trusty Handbook of Nature Study explained that  "During the first part of a typical sugar season, more sap comes from above down than from below up; toward the end of the season, during poor sap days, there is more sap coming up from below than down from above."

At Woodlands Maple Syrup, they use the time-honoured tap and bucket system, and go around with their tractor and collect the sap from all their buckets into a larger holding tank. From the holding tank, a hose carries the sap to their wood-fired evaporator inside the sugar house.

Inside the sugar house

The evaporator has three compartments. The first one is the largest. It is wide and shallow. Once enough water has evaporated, the sap goes into the second, then is finished in the third compartment. When the right temperature is reached, the tap is opened and the syrup is strained into a collection container. From there, it is taken and tested to make sure it meets the Canadian standards for concentration. It can take forty litres of sap to make one litre of syrup!

We bought a half-litre bottle of maple syrup, and had it on our whole wheat pancakes for supper that evening.

I will be sharing this post with Nature Study Monday at Fisher Academy International for their May link-up.