Written By Cynthia Annett-Hynes Edibles / One ingredient Apr 21, 2011 Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing SHARE VIA: Facebook Twitter Pinterestphotos: left: Gary Backlund, upper right: drilling the hole, lower right: tap collecting sap from a Bigleafall images: Jill PattersonCrouched below a bare-branched tree on a cool Saturday morning, I manoeuvre a hand-cranked drill slightly uphill, through layers of bark and wood. About 2 ½ inches in I stop and feel the slightest pulse. I swivel the bit out, press my finger against the gaping hole and clear sap springs out. I’ve just tapped my first bigleaf maple tree.I’m at the Backlund’s Backwoods – a 72-acre Managed Forest near Ladysmith that has been under the stewardship of Gary, Teesh and Katherine Backlund since 1986. I’m joined by keen outdoor enthusiasts, small farm owners looking to diversify, a wife surprising her maple-reminiscing Ontario-born husband, and other lovers of syrup. We’ve all come to learn about bigleaf maple sugaring through a one-day workshop offered by The Land Conservancy.Gary and Katherine lead us around their property offering instructions on how to identify bigleaf maples, tap their sap and, of course, make that magnificent elixir. A self-proclaimed “sapsucker”, Gary darts from an explanation of refractometers to reports about how yellow-belied sapsuckers (of the bird kind) can indicate a productive tree. Unlike their Eastern brethren, bigleaf maples are enigmatic in revealing their potential. Katherine has compiled data, comparing the characteristics of excellent to poor producers, but has found no definitive answers as to what trees or circumstances yield the most sap.Maple sugaring on the West Coast is altogether more fickle than operations in the East. Their sap streams in a steady flow for a few weeks. Here, the season can last upwards of 3 months as the sap spurts then ebbs, highly dependent on microclimatic weather conditions.Once a tree is tapped, a plastic spile is inserted which is connected to food-grade plastic tubing that feeds the drizzle into old oil jugs, recycled from restaurants. Amazingly, the trees are not harmed by this puncturing. They heal naturally, and studies show that their rate of growth is unhindered by tapping. Gary exclaims that these resilient trees, which can live to be 300 years old, seem to “thrive on punishment.”Gary predicts that sap will soon be found in natural food stores as its nutritional benefits, including high levels of calcium, potassium and other minerals, are discovered. He personally likes using the sap to provide a certain je ne sais quoi to potato soup or beef stew.The sap collected is usually about 2% sugar and 98% water. Drunk as is, the sap is quite pleasant – similar to water but slightly more viscous with a round, clean flavour. It can be used in preparing beverages like coffee or tea, adding body to soups, stews and sauces, cooking sushi rice or grains and even in bread-baking where natural yeasts provide extra rise. Gary predicts that sap will soon be found in natural food stores as its nutritional benefits, including high levels of calcium, potassium and other minerals, are discovered. He personally likes using the sap to provide a certain je ne sais quoi to potato soup or beef stew. The sap is perishable and can start to ferment after 3 days. Bram Lucieer, located near Campbell River, takes advantage of this to make a delicious maple wine.However, if it’s syrup you’re after, then the sap must be reduced. Many large companies simply use reverse-osmosis technology to produce syrup that meets the minimum 66.5% sugar requirement. But the caramelized flavour, with a whiff of wood smoke, detected in small-batch produced maple syrup is achieved only through the time and energy-intensive process of evaporation. The Backlund’s first batch smelled heavenly but peeled the wallpaper from their kitchen. Now, their sugar shack consists of an oil drum converted into a woodstove with a large 2-by-6 ft pan resting on top. According to the Rule of 86, it takes 43L of sap to produce 1L of bigleaf maple syrup, making it richer and more concentrated than Eastern examples.We sample a spectrum of the Backlund’s syrup – from a deeply toasted, thick, dark type to a lighter selection displaying an almost tangy brightness. There are so many flavours mingling in my mouth that I can hardly believe this is syrup. There is also an apple cinnamon maple syrup and maple mocha syrup, which Gary boasts is the pick of the litter when it comes to French toast or crepes. Generally, the flavours of bigleaf maple syrup fall into the butterscotch category with a few underlying salty notes. There may be a wide range of flavour though – even the syrup from a single tree can change dramatically throughout the season. There’s more maple to be had as we feast upon maple sand cookies, tea and hot chocolate prepared with the sap, sushi containing rice cooked in sap alongside a maple-laced soy sauce, maple popcorn and a nutty maple-moist cake.If you’d like to learn more about bigleaf maple sugaring, taste a variety of foods all made with bigleaf maple syrup or just pick up a bottle for your next brunch, check out the Bigleaf Maple Festival taking place on February 5th at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan.One Ingredient SHARE VIA: Facebook Twitter Pinterest Written By: Cynthia Annett-Hynes ... Read More You may also like Food / Recipes October 25, 2021 Sopa Paella Try the iconic Valencian dish as a hearty fall soup brimming with seafood and chorizo. We were going through a heat wave in Victoria when I ... Read More Food / Recipes October 25, 2021 It’s a Pancake Day! That crisp edge in the fall air stirs up a craving for comfort that sometimes only a stack of hot pancakes can deliver. 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