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Mar 19, 2011

Hammertown Wood Maple Syrup

This is my friend Gordon Craig, long-time King Township resident, a recent mayoralty candidate, and a man of many talents and accomplishments, not the least of which is organic maple syrup maker.   His King Township property is named Hammertown Wood, which is also the name of his handmade maple syrup.   Hammertown is an  old King Township hamlet nearby to Gordon's woodlot.   Gordon is shown here bringing a trailer-load of tree sap out of the woods and to me he looks like a man who is quite pleased with the job at hand.  The gentleman's hard work will result in about 2,800 litres of sap being boiled down to 70 litres of syrup, a 40 to 1 ratio!   There is a lot of work, knowledge and artistry involved between those two amounts and after many years, Gordon has mastered it.   He takes great pride in the organic, one-man, hands-on aspect of his syrup-making operation.   The scope and scale of everything is designed to be efficient and manageable, from the permanent sap lines, to size of collection pails and storage tanks, to the handcrafted boiler, parts of which were made by Gordon himself.

Keeping the fire properly stoked is a process mastered by practise, and Gordon Craig uses only fallen wood from his own woodlot.   He never cuts down trees for firewood.   A properly laid and tended fire never has smoke coming out of the stack and I can verify this is the case at Hammertown Wood.

Taking on the distinct caramel colour of maple syrup is sure sign that the process is nearing completion and ready for drawing off. Gordon bottles his maple syrup so that  the colour and clarity is readily apparent.   Mass-produced syrup is sometimes offered for sale in coloured or opaque bottles or in painted tins, so that clarity is not necessarily assured.   Gordon states however that all syrup is sterile because of the distillation process, so the odd bits of detritus in commercial products are not really of concern.   Gordon does not sell his syrup.   He and his wife, Judy, enjoy it  themselves and with guests, and much is given away to friends and neighbours.   Some of Gordon's business customers are recipients, as are local charities. 


Once syrup has been drawn off into pails for finishing, filtering and bottling, the whole process is begun again.   Gordon lays a new fire, adds fresh sap to the boiling pan, and heads off into the woods to collect more sap.   I tasted the sap and syrup and what a transformation!  As I stood in the clouds of maple-scented steam, I thought of how aboriginal indians acheived this miracle with their primitive methods.   It must have been a hugely tedious process for European settlers also.   I mentioned this to Gordon and he replied that early settlers weren't interested in syrup.   They boiled sap right down to sugar, which was otherwise mostly unavailable and unaffordable.   This was a special morning and I felt I had stepped back in time.   Thanks Gordon for this tasty bit of time-travelling.
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