If you ask anyone around the world what they know about Canada, the one answer you are sure to get is Maple Syrup. It is our most famous export and a symbol of our heritage. Canada exported 380 million dollars’ worth of maple syrup in 2014. Even our flag is a maple leaf!
Maple syrup is derived from the sap of the maple tree. The sugar maple, red maple or black maple are the most commonly tapped trees but other varieties of maple tree have been used. The maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots for the winter and then convert it into sugar that rises in the sap. In the late winter/early spring, usually mid to late February, the maple trees are tapped and the sap collected. When the temperatures are above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night the sap starts running and the collection is on. A small spigot or tap is driven into the trunk of the tree and a bucket hung below to catch the dripping sap.
Maple syrup was being made before settlers arrived in Canada and the process has remained basically unchanged since then. It is simply a matter of boiling the water off the sap to turn it into a thick sweet syrup. In modern times the process has sped up but not fundamentally changed, it now takes only 8 hours to boil 1200 litres of sap down to produce 30 litres of syrup. In order to be labelled as maple syrup, the end result must contain at least 66% sugar and have no additives.
In the past maple syrup and maple sugar have been used as sweeteners and there are many recipes available using maple syrup instead of cane sugar. 50 maple syrup recipes
The main factor in determining the amount of sap available is the weather the previous summer. Ample rain and sunlight are the building blocks for sap, and with extreme weather like drought trees can struggle to produce an abundance of sap. You should only tap a big healthy tree and never take more than 10% of the sap to ensure the tree remains healthy.
Maple Syrup festivals are going strong from late March through April all across Canada. These may include a hike through the sugar bush, a horse and wagon ride, exhibitions of how maple syrup is made, now and in the past, and quite often a pancake breakfast. After all, why else would we even need maple syrup!! So get out and experience this annual spring tradition, it truly offers something for everyone.