Alive and Well in a St.Josephs Island Maple Sugar Bush.
Sometime in 1879 Albert Crowder’s great grandfather left Ireland and found his way to St.Josephs Island. He settled, and forged a life for himself and a family that continues a sweet legacy found within a Sugar Maple Bush on ‘The Island’.
In the early spring, maple trees soften a little, and it is only when this happens, that the old school method of spile,tap & bucket can capture the thin, nutritious sap pulsating within the awakening tree. A trip to one such place, The Crowder Maple Sugar Bush, brings a person into a preserved place where the methods used, are essentially the same, as they were 135 years ago. The delicate drip, drip, drip bellowing through the woods is a sweet chorus for spring. The anthem song of a sugar maple bush.
The cabins within the bush are original and include ones today that Albert Crowder built or moved. They speak to a tradition. As a young boy, Albert remembers “This was the highlight of the year. There were always at least 3-6 men staying here (in the warming cabin). Someone was gathering (sap), cooking, or sleeping.” adding “Men saw this as a break from the farm work. Wives and family were always happy to see them come home. Especially the children, because they would have maple candy and syrup with them. Men could be gone for sometimes three weeks.” Albert Crowder reflected on the power of an image. As a child he remembers seeing “candles illuminated within the sleeping cabin at night.”
St. Joseph’s Island is geographically located at the northern edge of hardwood forest. Albert shared “There is a natural limestone ridge running underneath us here. Maple trees need limestone and ‘sugar sand’ These limestone molecules father to form grains of ‘sugar sand’.” For this reason (and others of course), St.Joe’s Island is one of the most important places on earth.
The Crowder farm uses wood to fire the evaporators that will harness the power of the sap. Many maple syrup producers now use high heat steam to power the evaporators. The evaporators are where the magic happens. Sap is cooked until water has been evaporated. The colour of sap is clear (for the most part), especially in early spring. As the tree continues to wake up from hibernation, more nutrients from the roots are gathered, and sap can become an amber colour.
Daryl Wilson, a long time friend of Albert Crowders makes the trip from Windsor, Ontario each year at this time, to help Albert tap trees and cook sap into syrup. Daryl has done independent research and shared “Wood-fired sap provides for a more nutritious syrup. Most of the elements, the enzymes in the sap remain in the syrup through wood-firing”. adding “I believe it preserves the natural flavour’.
Albert Crowder considers himself and his pioneering style, as a way of preserving history. “Some things have evolved. Cedar & birch sap buckets collected, and poured into Iron kettles over the fire, have given way to pails.” Albert considers himself a hobbyist when it comes to the Maple Sugar Bush, and Maple Syrup. “We get around 460 liters of syrup at the end of the spring run”.
As spring continues to lift northern ontario out of a tough winter, Maple tree sap will drip,drip,drip into a pail in the Crowder Sugar Maple Bush. Listen for the signs. Spring is singing a sweet song.
For information on All things Maple Syrup, visit http://www.ontariomaple.com/pages/nutrition/