When my firstborn was just a mite, I remember one spring acquiring a couple of spiggots and buckets and tapping the 50 year old maple trees in our front yard.
I thought it would be an “interesting” experience for Mom and kid to learn about the making of maple syrup, Canada’s national sweetener.
It’s unbelievable how much sap pours out of a maple tree… buckets and buckets of it! In fact, I quickly ran out of metal containers big enough to contain it all. I hadn’t thought this out very thoroughly and I’d never “done” sap before so the experience was less “interesting” and more “labour intensive.”
I tried to boil down the sap on our camping coleman stove, sitting out on the back deck.
I lost count of the cans of fuel that I poured into the camp stove and the number of trips Son and Mom made to the back deck to check on things. It’s been 21 years since the experience and it still hasn’t faded into memory and become a lovely thing that Son and Mom shared. It was a tremendous amount of work for precious little syrup that was gone in one sitting.
That’s why I’m now a big fan of the maple sugar experience Stoer-Style.
Addie and Marta Stoer have three interesting “agricultural” operations on their Oro property but it’s during three Sundays coming up that you can really enjoy Addie’s inventiveness, Marta’s pancakes and sausages, and their marvellous maple syrup, in a variety of colours and flavours.
For 12 years the Stoers have been inserting about 750 taps and boiling down 28,000 litres of sap into bottles of syrup that are sold to many No Frills grocery stores, delicatessens in Toronto, small retailers and at the Stoer’s on-site store as well.
Sap season is quick and it’s only on March 24, 31 and April 7 that you can take your family out for a Sap and Syrup experience… these are the Stoers’ pancake days. In their syrup facility you can order up a plate of pancakes and sausages, complete with beverage and smother it all in delectable maple syrup.
Tannenhof Farms is the name of the Stoer’s property and of their maple syrup product.
For Addie and Marta, construction of their tap lines, their boiling unit (which is oil fired), their chemical free production of syrup has required inventiveness and determination. They visited many maple sugar operations before building their own, learning from each one they visited and coming up with a system that is uniquely theirs.
Their syrup is graded as Extra Light, Light, Medium (these are all graded as #1’s by government standards) and then Amber and Dark (#2’s). Addie says he loves Amber syrup because it’s flavour is strong, heavily Maple, and the colour is glorious. All grades of syrup have the same percentage of sugar, with the only difference being flavour intensity. “On ice cream, the amber flavour tastes almost like butterscotch,” says Addie.
There are some interesting statistics around tree tapping. It takes 33 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup. Addie’s ratio is way tighter than mine was, but I just want you to imagine boiling 33 litres of sap down to one litre of liquid… it takes a long, long time!
Over one season (which is about six weeks in total) you can expect to get 30-40 litres of sap from one tap. Depending on the diameter of the tree, you can insert more than one tap. Some trees have 3 or 4 taps; and Addie has one tree, a 150-year-old maple with a 12-foot diameter. It bears 6 or 7 taps and gives a tremendous amount of sap.
Each year a tap hole must be several inches away from a former tap hole. And, if your spiggots are connected to a line, they have to be done so the sap flows from high to low. Tapping trees is a science of its own.
The Stoers use a vacuum system and the sap is suctioned to a collection point in the middle of the tree lot and then it’s lifted 13 feet and suctioned 900 feet from the bush into the boiling tanks. During sugar time when Addie and Marta are boiling their own 28,000 litres of sap, they’re also handling about 40,000 litres for their neighbours. The off-site sap arrives in barrels and Addie boils in bulk or bottles it for his “commercial” customers.
“When we started, it was with 50 taps, cooking on a gas burner in the back yard,” he recalls. [see? we all start the same way!] “ I was doing it just for ourselves and I made too much. I sold a few litres off just to get rid of it. People came back and asked for more and I looked at our bush and said, ‘all right.’
“I designed the whole system and we went around and looked at other operations before building our own.”
And right now, the sap’s running at Tannenhof Farms. The syrup season will finish in the first week of April. As soon as it’s over, the Stoers are back to their other endeavours… honey and a specialized pasta product.
They have 100 colonies of bees and sell their honey to the same customers as their syrup. Their honey business is a much larger operation because not only do they produce honey, but they sell bees, honey, wax, bee keeping equipment for other bee keepers. They also train new bee keepers.
Addie, in addition to this, spends the week days in pasta production–a product called spaetzle–which is sold to grocery stores, restaurants, military kitchens etc. He calls it a sideline to their operation.
But, for Addie and Marta, their three syrup Sundays are season highlights. They do it so they can spend time with families.
It’s an excellent outing and at $6.25 for adults and $3.75 for children (for their pancake experience), it’s certainly cheaper than buying several gallons of fuel and standing over your camp stove!
To get there from Barrie, drive north on Highway 11 to the 5th line. Take the overpass north over Highway 11 and drive up the fifth until the first sideroad (15-16). Turn right. The next intersection is the sixth line. Turn left and the first driveway you’ll come to is Tannenhof Farm. Good signs. Actual address is #840 line 6 north, Oro township.
Addie suggests you reserve by calling first so your family is accommodated well. Phone? 487-2758.
It’s a lovely experience and the tromp through the bush is free!
Thanks, Addie! Thanks, Marta! We’re lucky to have you producing this Canadian experience for us!