Fat Tuesday is just around the corner, a day traditionally celebrated by eating lots and lots of pancakes covered in sweet maple syrup.
In Ruscom Station, in Lakeshore, syrup producer Rob Nadeau is making major changes to how he processes the sap from his trees — and it’s a far cry from how he used to do it.
“We used to boil outside 17 hours at a time on an oil drum on straight, flat pans,” he said. “Very difficult to do.”
That’s why Nadeau has made a significant purchase — ditching the traditional outdoor boiling method for a shiny, new evaporator.
The machine can boil about 380 litres of sap down to syrup in about 10 hours. Had he stuck with the traditional method, the same amount would’ve taken twice that long.
So why is it so important to speed up the boiling process?
It starts with Nadeau’s upbringing, growing up in Quebec with freezers full of syrup. His family had two syrup operations in the province.
While his family production collected sap from sugar maples, trees at Nadeau’s farm are silver and red maple.
The difference is the sugar content. Silver and red maple trees average about 1.7 per cent sugar content, while sugar maple trees average about two per cent. That means even more work for Nadeau.
“It makes it that we have to boil more sap than they do,” he said.
The first thing he looks for are fresh buds — a clear indicator the sap is running. Then, it’s time to start tapping the tree and collect the sweet liquid into a bucket.
There are more than 300 trees collecting sap on his property — but Nadeau isn’t slowing down. He has a goal of another 100 trees.
“It’s so labour-intensive that people don’t want to do it, and I get it. It’s one of the hardest things you can imagine,” he said.
While his products are being sold in Windsor-Essex, Nadeau hopes increasing production speed will also help put more of his products on tables in homes across Canada.
Canada’s maple tree shortage
Nadeau is also trying to plant more trees. He’s planted 3,000 trees over the past five years.
“We still have plenty of maples in Canada which is good news, but there have been maple decline issues too,” said Sandy MacDonald, landscape horticulture professor at St. Clair College.
Contributing factors, he said, include insects, fungal disorders, global warming, compaction around the roots and air pollution.