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'Family, fun and tradition'

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Brian Gehring sat comfortably outside the confines of metropolitan Otterville, his mud-spattered pickup truck parked beside a sugar shack serenaded by Taylor Swift and Toby Keith.

As a result, ‘going green,’ wasn’t entirely appropriate verbiage.

“Nahhh,” he responded, perking up at the proffered suggestion of ‘high efficiency’, perhaps in part due to the fact his ‘day job’ is with Union Gas. “That’s right,” Gehring agreed with a smile. “More high efficiency.”

The scent of Gehring family, fun and tradition hung in Thursday’s spring air. The fact Brian and his brother Matt, supported by the broader Gehring clan tapped this year is very much a memorial familial tribute to their grandfather Gord.

Brian was around a sugar shack with his grandfather since the age of four or five, the same time he started junior kindergarten.

“Every other day,” he said. “When I wasn’t in school, I was here.”

Years of fond memories surrounding maple syrup production were shared through the entire family. Gord’s passing a year ago last September, along with less-than-ideal weather and their jobs (his brother Matt is a tool-and-die maker) meant the sugar shack lay quiet in 2012. But together, along with associated family members on the gathering crew and in support roles, the two brothers fired a new evaporator up for a run early this March.

Even while strongly steeped in maple-scented tradition as they rolled into the 2013 season, the Gehrings did so with an updated arch and set of pans.

Their old firebox was 10-feet long and two-and-a-half wide, firing eight-foot long pans across the same width. Their shiny, new stainless steel model’s firebox is a compact six feet long and two wide, under a two-by-seven arch and set of two-foot-by-six-foot pans.

Apparatus over the pans captures and recycles what used to be lost heat to warm sap as high as 80 degrees Celsius prior to its entry into the first pan. Less fragrant – and sticky – for the boiling crew, the design has proven roughly twice as efficient, says Brian.

“I’m using about half as much wood as the old evaporator.”

Gord’s venerable boiling chair is still a fixture, with the ‘assistant’s’ chair adjacent to it, and Brian takes a turn in both, on occasion.

“Generally I’m standing though,” he laughed. “If I’m sitting, it’s like grandpa would be saying ‘Get off your butt, there’s stuff to be done.’”

The Gehrings tapped three weeks ago, Brian said Thursday, and the flow of sap ‘really picked up,’ earlier in the week at their farm, south of Otterville.

“This past week is the best run so far this year.”

Brian boiled roughly 500 litres of sap the previous day, and estimated Thursday’s haul of finished syrup would bring their production to 30 gallons for the year to that point. With the gathering gang busy at work, and sub-zero temperatures forecast for early this week, he was hopeful for at least one more run.

“Maybe we’ll get another week.”

As anyone who has sampled maple syrup knows, there is no substitute for the true taste of Canadiana contained therein. And given the overhead and labour, anyone who has boiled it for themselves also knows profit is typically not the primary motive.

“It’s not about the money, not about the money,” Brian concluded. “It’s about the tradition and being out here.”

 

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