poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘maple syrup

growing and gathering – value

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These days I am working to complete my manuscript of poems on the subject of ‘growing and gathering’ local foods.

As I sort my poems, I find several are about the ‘value’ of wild plants as food.

Sometimes this value is simple value for money.  Every cup of blueberries I pick is one I don’t have to buy.  When I pick enough berries to freeze, I can have blueberries or blackberries when they cost a fortune to buy fresh at the store.  I am also bringing the warm summer and its memories forward into the chill of winter.

A few of my poems focus on the value of substitution.  For example, I will never run out of tea leaves for my daily tea break.  I have Pineapple Weed, Sorrel and Sweet-fern teas to make.  Thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, and my own little herb garden, I have a rack of fresh herbs drying, including Camomile and several varieties of Mint.  If I run out of salad ingredients, I have a stash of salad greens just outside my door.

Storage is the subject matter of a few of my poems.  When I was young, my Mom showed us how to collect Spruce Gum from the trees for a sticky but tasty chew.  During my project, I learned that some woodsmen make little wooden boxes for the gum, to keep it for later use.  I also have a few poems about making jelly and jam.

Thinking about the value of food, I can’t forget the people for whom growing and gathering local foods is an occupation, not just a ‘hobby’.  I have written poems about the people who sell shad and fiddleheads and lobster from their roadside trucks, about children who earn their summer money by picking and selling berries, and, of course, about the farmer.

Last but not least, there is just the joy of finding or producing and eating your own food.  I always say, the best part of a home garden is the taste of the first carrot or the snap of the first wax bean!

What do you think is the greatest value associated with growing and gathering local foods?

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

©  Jane Tims  2012

end of the maple syrup season

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On Monday, we finished our last lot of maple syrup for the season.  The whole house was filled with the sweet smell of syrup at boil.  I finish the syrup on our electric kitchen stove, in a pan made particularly for the purpose.  Made of aluminum, it has a narrow base and a flared top.  I thought it was a terrible extravagance at $268, but it really has improved both the boiling time and the process, and it will last for many years.

I love the final boiling.  The smell of the steam is amazing and the boil of the syrup is fascinating to watch.  While the  sap is boiling, I skim the foam with a slotted spoon, a very soothing activity.  Then, the temperature rises suddenly on the candy thermometer, and those huge candy bubbles start to form.  The part I like best is hearing the seal ‘pop’ on the Mason jars and knowing we have produced enough syrup for our pancakes and muffins and a few gifts for family and friends, enough for the whole year.

This was not our best year but we are so used to the routine, it seemed painless.  We tapped 10 Red Maple trees, collected 167 liters of sap (compared to 329 liters last year) from March 12 to April 6, and prepared 14 pints of syrup.  The syrup was dark this year but very sweet and flavorful.



sugartime slow


in the rain

maples bloom

small red fireworks

slate sky


drip slow

time slow

sap runs bitter

hardly worth the boil



© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

maple sap soda fountain

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For the last two days, the maple sap has been running again.  The nights have been below freezing and the days are sunny and warm.  Yesterday, we had 12 liters of sap from our 10 trees.   The day before, we collected about 5 liters.

Each tree has its own rhythm of drips.  Our best producer today drips at a rate of about 9 drops every 5 seconds, or 108 drops per minute.

This evening, I had my ‘drink the sap from the tree’ experience.  I took a small glass and caught the drips for a couple of ounces of the sweetest water ever.  To me, the sap of each tree has its own taste.  The sap from the big maple tree by our front door tastes a lot like cream soda without the fizz!

The maple sap is crystal clear, although it will turn dark amber (No. 2 Amber, according to our grading in Canada) once we boil it down to syrup.





one drop of maple sap

from the spile


a seep from slate

at the waterfall edge


in rain, a tear

from the margin of a leaf


a pause in the envelope

between rough bark and aluminum



© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

March 30, 2012 at 7:07 am

maple syrup ups and downs

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It may be a short maple syrup season this year.  The weather has not been cooperative.  In order for the sap to run, warm days are great, but the nights need to be cold.  When the temperatures fall below zero, the sap in the tree runs from the crown to the roots.  When the day is warm and sunny, the sap runs back up to the canopy.  If there is no cold night, no sap. 
So far we have collected about 40 liters of sap from our 10 trees and I have 3 bottles (each 500 ml or two cups) of lovely dark syrup!  This compares to 136 liters of sap last year on the same date, from 12 trees.



Cold night, warm day


Icicles build

from the spile

sweet sickles of sap



© Jane Tims 2012

maple syrup time

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Well, the time has finally arrived.  The nights are cold and the days this week are predicted to be sunny and warm.  In our house the combination of cold days and warm nights means the sap is moving in our maple trees.

We tap Red Maple (Acer rubrum L.), although Sugar-maple (Acer saccharum Marsh) is preferred by commercial syrup producers.  Last year we tapped 12 trees, about at the edge of our low-tech capability.  This year we are tapping 10 trees.

We usually use the ‘old-fashioned’ spile and aluminum bucket method.  This year, for the first time, my husband is trying a plastic spile and pipe system for 5 of our taps.  It seems a little easier since the sap drips directly into a plastic reservoir and this eliminates one step in the endless pouring process.

For those of you unfamiliar with tapping trees for sap, the basic idea is to collect the sap and boil it down to make maple syrup.  We select a tree, bore a hole, insert a spile and hang a bucket on the spile hook.  The spile is a cleverly designed spigot which channels the sap from inside the tree into the bucket.  The bucket is fitted with a cover to keep out rainwater or snow and reduce insect access.

So far this year, we have collected 25 liters of sap.  This will boil down at about 40 to 1 to make a little more than 500 ml of syrup (about 2 cups).  Last year, from a season total of 329 liters of sap, we made about 40 pint jars of syrup.  If you try to calculate that at 40 to 1, it will never come out correctly since we don’t boil all of the sap to the same concentration and we drink some of the sap as a sweet drink.

Collecting maple sap is so much fun.  It is good exercise and a great way to get your dose of warm spring sunshine.  And, we have enough maple syrup to last for the year.

I’ll be keeping you up to date on our maple syrup adventures this year.  Right now, the pot full of sap is boiling on the deck.



sugar song


cold nights

warm days

cold nights


sap plucks stainless steel

different rhythm, every tap

quick and dead slow

in sync

with the downy woodpecker

or the bird with the round warble in its throat



©  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

March 19, 2012 at 8:01 am

‘niche’ above the ground

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Around us are spaces so familiar, we don’t pay attention to them anymore.  I remember this when I walk in the woods near our house.  On the ground, at my feet, are layers of leaves from last autumn, the carpet of mosses, the plants of the understory. 

And then I remember to look up and see the space above me. 

This space is the realm of the trees.  It is a space shaped by their canopies, the needles of the Balsam Fir and White Pine, the leaves of Red Maple, and the dead branches and twigs of the spruce.  Most of the trees reach upward, roughly perpendicular to the ground.  They stand together, parallel, the masts and rigging of a sailing ship.  Others have succumbed to decay and gravity and wind, and have fallen.  Their trunks make diagonal slashes through the spaces above and leave gaps in the canopy.

snowshoe trail and sap bucket on maple

These are spaces I cannot access, since my tree-climbing days are over.  But I can move there, briefly, in winter.  When the snow builds on the ground, it lifts me into the trees.  I am reminded of this when I see the empty tap holes in the trunks of the maples along the trail.  These are the holes left behind when we pull the taps at the end of maple syrup production in the spring.  When we collected the sap, the taps were about three feet above the surface of the snow, so we could access them easily.  Now, snow gone, the tap holes are above my head.  Our snowshoe paths were elevated into the space above the ground.  One winter the snows were so high, we had to trim the branches along the trail.  Next summer we could look up and see our winter path, traced by the absence of branches in the space above our heads. 

There is no soil up there in the above ground space, but there are many species who occupy this challenging ‘niche’.  White-throat sparrows sing “I love Canada, Canada, Canada” from the tree tops, ghostly grey spruce budworm moths flicker through the canopy, and the lichen Old Man’s Beard (Usnea subfloridana) droops from the dead branches of the older conifers. 

Usnea subfloridana Stirt. is a lichen often found growing on old and stressed trees in coniferous woods. The common name, Old Man's Beard, refers to the matted, stringy appearance of the lichen, hanging in clumps from tree branches. Lichens are made up of two species, an algae and a fungus, living together symbiotically.

Old Man’s Beard is my favourite space-maker in the canopy.  It hangs, light as thistledown, gathering the moisture it needs from the fog and rain, absorbing nutrients from the air, creating a home for insects and tiny spiders in need of shelter.  It paints the spaces with strokes of palest green.   
Old Man’s Beard transforms the spaces it occupies.  On the road between Saint John and Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada) is a well-known picnic site and escarpment, called Eagle Rock.  The climb above the parking area  is steep, but at the top of the cliff the terrain flattens in an old growth of spruce and fir.  The ground is thick with reindeer lichen, Cladina rangiferina and Cladina arbuscula, and the trees are draped in Old Man’s Beard.  The effect is a frosted forest, as though these spaces were eternally in winter.  And I am lifted into the ‘niche’ above the ground.
Next time you are outside, look up.  What is in the space above you?  What are its qualities?  How does it shape your life?


Old Man’s Beard     

             Usnea subfloridana Stirt.

you and I

years ago

            forced our ways

            bent through the thicket

            of lichen and spruce


                        caught in your beard

                        and we laughed


                                    us with stooped backs

                                    and grey hair?

            found a game trail

                        a strawberry marsh

                                    wild berries 

                                                crushed into sedge

                                                stained shirts


                                    and fingers


                                    dusted with sugar

                                                washed down with cold tea

                                                warmed by rum


an old woman


lost her way in the spruce

found beard

            caught in the branches

and cried


Published as: ‘Old Man’s Beard’, Summer 1994, the Fiddlehead 180

© Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 2, 2011 at 5:19 pm

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