Making maple syrup a family tradition for the Sloans
There was a steady drip of maple sap trickling into containers at Fawn Lake Resort last week and that makes the Sloan family very happy.
“We tapped our first tree in the beginning of March and were kind of uncertain how the season would be this year with all the very cold weather we’ve been having,” said Dave Sloan. “But in the last few days, the sap has been running and we are keeping busy with it.”
Dave and his wife Penny, along with their son Dave Jr., are working hard this spring to gather the watery sap that the big maples on their property are producing, but for this family the going hasn’t been easy.
The Sloans only started their sugar bush six years ago. Despite the fact that Dave Sr. has practically lived his entire life on Fawn Lake, the prospect of making syrup never occurred to him. But all that changed when Dave Jr. expressed a desire to tap some of the trees on the property.
“We pretty much started from scratch,” said Dave. “The first year we only tapped 10 trees and boiled what we gathered in a turkey fryer. I would say these days it’s taken on a life of its own.”
As the years have progressed, the Sloans have acquired more taps in addition to some wide metal pans for boiling. Last year they tapped 55 trees and this spring there are 85 trees sporting bright blue collection bags, where last Tuesday the sap was dripping in at a steady pace.
Another recent acquisition was a large plastic storage tank.
“One of the problems we had early on was having enough containers to hold the sap until we could boil it,” said Dave. “We even made do with some metal containers that were used as decorations at a wedding one year.”
The Sloans admit this year has been challenging as far as gathering the sap is concerned. Without the help of Dave Jr., it would have been almost impossible. The deep snow in the woods has caused many a stuck transportation vehicle, which includes a snowmobile and an ATV.
“Last week the snowmobile got stuck, so I had to get the ATV to pull that out,” said Dave Sr. “Usually getting into the woods isn’t too bad, but this year was a different story. It’s pretty deep this spring, which makes getting around to gather the sap quite a job. I’m glad my son comes out to help. It would be an almost impossible job otherwise.”
But the family has persevered and last weekend they held their first boil. Dave rigged up a cinder block type stove, where chunks of woods are carefully added to a glowing fire underneath the wide metal pans where the sap is poured. The new storage tank makes this job a lot easier.
“Now we can plan when we boil and I have a spigot on the storage tank, so I can add sap as needed during the boil,” said Dave.
The all important final boil is performed in a turkey fryer.
“This way I have more control over the last stages when the sap turns into syrup,” said Dave. “You have to watch it real close at the end or it will turn into sugar instead of syrup.”
Despite the more challenging conditions this year, the family really enjoys the process of gathering sap and then watching it boil into the golden goodness of syrup. In fact, last weekend they had their first boil and, as in years past, invited many friends and family to join in the fun. Dave rigged up a tarped pole structure over the boiling area, which resembles a somewhat makeshift picnic area.
“People really enjoy coming out and watching the boiling process,” chuckled Dave. “Everyone is anxious to get outside after this long winter and watching sap boil is a good excuse to do just that.”