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Our trip into the forests of New Brunswick to check out the 2007 harvest of Maple syrup brought us to an old farm, located on the side of a hill overlooking Washademoak Lake, about 40 km (25 miles) from Hampton. After walking up from the road through the forest we emerged onto an old field, still recovering from the 60-cm (2-ft) of snow that had covered it all winter. Here we had a good look at a big old Sugar Maple tree, one of the many that cover this 10-hectare (25-acre) plot of land. The second photo is a more distant shot of the same area, also revealing an old drywall stone foundation of a long-gone building on the farm. This type of Maple is best for producing mayple syrup from its sap and they grow only in northeastern North America, stetching west and south to Missouri and Tennessee.
The whole process starts in the Autumn as the dying leaves send the sap they have produced over the summer down into the roots of the tree. It lies dormant all winter but comes alive again in the Spring when the effects of the sun are strong enough to warm the soil above the roots. This triggers the tree to begin pumping the sap back up into the tree branches as fuel for the new buds and leaves that will start the process all over again. Research has shown that the amount of flow is highly dependent on the day and night temperatures at this critical period, with about 5 C during the day and -4 C overnight producing the maximum sap flows. The temperatures on this day were not quite optimum, with a -5 C overnight temperature rising to only 2 C (with a 40 kph wind) while we were there. It is the combination of where the trees grow and Canada's temperature patterns that enables it to produce about 80% of world production.
Updated Apr 7, 2007
Address: Take Route 705 off Route 710 to get there
The final product of the M & N Morin Maple company operation is an array of bottles filled with freshly prepared Maple syrup, as shown here. Our tour ended with a look at the final step of the process in which the loads of maple sap are fed into two flat pans that are each heated by a wood-fired boiler, shown in the second and third photos. This is necessary to evaporate the water in the sap until just the right concentration of the sugary sap remains. Wood for these boilers is collected from storm blow-down bits off the trees on the farm or by harvesting old and dying trees. It turns out the Sugar Maples (also known as Rock Maples) have the hardest wood of all maple trees and make excellent firewood.
Because the sugar content of the sap is only about 4%, it takes about 40 litres of sap to be boiled in order to produce one litre of syrup. The production from this small operation is not large but it seems to be doing quite well. Overall, Canadian production is on the rise, with the province of Québec producing 90% and the remainder coming from Ontario (5%), New Brunswick (4%) and Nova Scotia (1%).
We had a very helpful guide take us on our walk as he explained the whole set-up and, amazingly, there was no charge for the tour.
Updated Apr 4, 2007
The trees on this farm have been here for over 100 years and about 800 of the Sugar Maples are tapped to siphon off their sap as it flows back up out of their roots. Altogether, on this farm, about 1200 pots were attached to the trees, with a maximum of two per tree to ensure that the tree does not suffer any damage from losing too much of its 'life-force' fluids.
The second photo shows a close-up of a small spout that is screwed into the tree trunk, allowing the sap to slowly drip into the bucket or pot hung from the spout. When we were there in early afternoon, the fluid in the bottom of the pots was still frozen from the overnight temperatures, but we could see the drops slowly forming and falling. This is an excellent stand of trees whose sap has a sugar content of about 4%, still requiring a lot of further processing before the final product is delivered. The third photo shows a typical stand of trees, with many of them having pots attached. Every so often, an All Terrain Vehicle with its attached trailer and tank (4th photo) makes the rounds of these trees, with the buckets being emptied for the journey back to the 'Sugar shack'.
Updated Apr 3, 2007
The centre of the operation is a small 'sugar shack', located in the Sugar Maple forest at the foot of a sloping hillside. Here, the group has gathered around, after our walk through the forest, to enjoy a taste of freshly made Maple syrup (see my 'Local Customs' tip for the details). Just inside the front porch of this building is located a small room where bottles of the finished Maple syrup are on display for sale. A larger room at the back-end of the shack contains the equipment required to produce the syrup from the raw tree sap.
The second photo shows a side view of the building, featuring a tall chimney on one end that is connected to the wood-fired ovens in the large room. Also visible is a raised section of roof that has moveable side sections that can be opened to allow steam from the boiling process to escape. The third photo is another view of the 'business' end of the building where the boilers are located, with escaping steam visible as our group descends through the nearby Sugar Maples.
Updated Apr 2, 2007
The first part of the Kennebecasis Naturalist Society trip to the Maple sugar farm consisted of a meal at the nearby McCrea Farms site. Located on the south side of the valley overlooking Washademoak Lake, this family run establishment has plenty of diversions for all four seasons. They offer sugarbush tours, such as the one we planned to take, as well as lake skating, snomobiling, cross-country skiing, hunting, fishing and swimming! They also have a cabin down at lakeshore that sleeps 7-10 if you want to make an extended stay of it.
Favorite Dish: In our case, we were just one of a few groups they were hosting for sugarbush tours on a sunny but cool 2 C (36 F) late-March Saturday morning. The group ahead of us had not yet quite finished their meal when we arrived, so we were ushered into their sitting room (2nd photo) beside the combined kitchen/dining area. I had a great talk there with one of the other members of our group who had travelled extensively all over the world in search of suitable granite to be used in his family-owned tombstone/memorial business.
It was a great meal, a noon-hour 'breakfast' consisting of orange juice, scrambled eggs, slices of ham, sausages, crepes or pancakes with Maple syrup and tea/coffee! The 3rd photo shows my 82-year old mother enjoying her feast as the cooking goes on behind her in the kitchen. The cost was C$10 (US$8.50) per person.
Updated Apr 3, 2007
Address: 2670 Route 707, Shannon, New Brunswick
Phone: 506-485-5600 or 0095
Once the maple syrup has been boiled to the proper concentration, one of the local traditions is to sample the latest batch right then and there! In our case, the large metal tank holding either fresh grains of snow or crushed ice provides a nice even bed on which to ladle out the latest offering of syrup, as you can see here. Small flat wooden 'popsicle' sticks are provided to everyone and it is a simple matter to use the end of the stick to roll the quickly cooled maple syrup strip into a coil. It is very sticky stuff, so there is no problem to get it to attach to your wooden stick for a uniquely tasting treat, as shown by my mother in the second photo! I have to admit, it was a very nice way to end the tour!
Updated Apr 7, 2007
The dead-end Croft's Cove road very quickly turned from pavement to gravel as it reached an area of summer cottages built along the lakeshore. It was there, where there was only a narrow strip of trees between the road and the lakeside that we suddenly encountered two White-tailed Deer that maybe were sampling a fresh drink along the open shore of Washademoak Lake. It is this time of early Spring when large numbers of Deer emerge from the forests, sometimes in herds of 20 or so. Luckily we were only puttering along, because they both bolted across the road in front of the car as they headed for the deeper woods away from the lake. The tricky thing about Deer is that you don't really know what they will do next, they could bolt directly into your path and, usually, where there is one in sight there are more that could jump out at any moment. From a driver's point of view, with their light weight, they normally only bash up your car instead of causing life-threatening damage like much larger and heavier Moose do if you actually make contact. This Deer was actually in my backyard a couple weeks before this Maple sugar trip. The second photo shows their 'alarm' signal, a raised white tail, as the Deer exited my premises after spotting our housecat sunning on the rear deck! The ones that ran across the road in front of us also had their tails up! While driving home to Fredericton later in the afternoon, I came across another four Deer browsing in a field beside the highway.
Updated Apr 7, 2007
At the end of our tour of the 'sugar shack' operations, we finished off by continuing the drive on Craft's Cove road along the south shore of Washademoak Lake not far from the tiny community of Shannon. By late-March, the strength of the daytime sun has done its work on the various sheets of 2-foot thick ice that had formed over the winter months. As you can see here, serious cracks have appeared along the shoreline and there is another one starting at the mid-right side of the photo that continued all the way across to the other shore. The warmth of the sun, coupled with the rising water levels due to the snow-melt along the 350-mile Saint John River will soon put an end to the ice sheets and possibly even result in local flooding depending on the volume of water produced by the snowmelt and rain. This is no time to be fooling around on the ice if you value you life! During the summer months, these various waterways provide an excellent boating environment, with many yachts and powerboats cruising the waters at their leisure in the 25-30 C heat.
Updated Apr 2, 2007
Three weeks after my maple suger trip, I attended the funeral of my father's 82-year old cousin, Bill Titus, who was appropriately buried in the small community of Titusville, located just a few miles south and east of Hampton. This tiny place in rural New Brunswick has always held special memories for me, thanks to the summer of 1959 which our family spent here while my Dad helped run his father's nearby lumber mill. This photo is what remains of Bill's house 48 years later, rather run down by now, due to resisting the blasts of many harsh Canadian winters.
I was only 10 years old at the time, but I remember enjoying many summer afternoons swimming in the nearby brooks with my older brother and two younger sisters. My brother and I also built a wooden 'hot-rod' racer but used our 7-year old sister Pat as our first 'test driver' down the steep hill leading into Bill's house! Another time when Bill was out mowing the hay in his fields, my brother and I tagged along to watch the action. I noticed that he had cut down a wasp nest which was now laying on the ground in the field so I decided to check out my theory that I could run faster than wasps could fly. While my brother and Bill watched, I took a run at the nest and squashed it as I ran past, continuing at full speed. Apparently, I was too slow because it was only seconds later when I felt stings, before I made it to the safety of a nearby stream while Bill and my brother rolled on the ground laughing!
The second photo shows the very picturesque Titus Hill where Bill was finally laid to rest, beside the dead-end road that led to his homestead of more than 60 years.
Updated Apr 21, 2007
Favorite thing: This part of the province of New Brunswick, located along the Saint John River between the major port of Saint John and the capital city of Fredericton (with its nearby community of Oromocto in the upper left of this map) is, in my opinion, one of the top scenic areas in the province. As you can see from this section of the provincial highway map, the terrain to the east of the Saint John River is cut by a number of incoming water courses. Starting from the south, the first one is the Kennebecasis River which turns into Kennebecasis Bay with the village of Hampton located at the head of the Bay (the start of the 'pink' drive to our Maple syrup harvest tour). Above that is Belleisle Bay as our route cuts past its upper end before reaching the next 'arm' of the Saint John River. This one, called Washademoak Lake, is formed by the wide valley where the Canaan River flows into the Saint John. Finally, Grand Lake, the largest in the province, flows into the river just before the map peters out, as the Saint John River continues for another 480-km (300-miles) to its upper reaches in northern Maine, USA.
Fondest memory: Although Hampton is the closest VT-site to the location of our Maple sugar trip, this entire area of river valleys, treed hillsides and rolling farmlands is very picturesque and the network of small roads to the east of the Saint John River provides many opportunities to explore at your leisure. To make things easier for travellers, there are also five free provincially-operated ferries to take you back and forth across these various bodies of water. All you have to do is turn up on one side or the other and within 15-20 minutes, the ferry will see to your needs at no charge. You can get out of your vehicle and enjoy the scenery during the crossing too! Those other roads, marked in Blue and Green, are designated provincial 'scenic highways'.
Updated Apr 3, 2007