Food & Drink » Food News

Get Stuffed

Sweet on Canada



Maple syrup a product of the Canadian landscape

Any child who grew up east of the prairies would at some time in their life have taken part in an annual spring pilgrimage – a visit to the sugar bush.

It was inevitably cold with a lot of snow still on the ground while we were led from tree to tree to watch the minute drops of clear sap running from the maples into metal buckets. We would pile into the sugar shack, dark and sweetly steaming, to see the sap being boiled off in great big vats.

The best part though was reaching the pancake house. Long tables and benches were set up to receive stacks of hot pancakes and fresh maple syrup, and we gorged ourselves until it seemed that everything was sticky and sweet.

Popular legend says that a First Nations chief threw his tomahawk at a maple tree, creating a slash in the bark. Thinking the bleeding sap to be water, his wife collected the clear liquid to cook venison. The resulting dish was so delicious the experiment was repeated from that point on. North American Natives collected "sweetwater" during the "maple moon" by slashing diagonally into the bark of maple trees. They would place a hollow reed into the slash and collect the sap in hollowed out basswood logs. The sap was concentrated into syrup by throwing heated rocks into the log until the desired sweetness was achieved.

When European settlers arrived in eastern North America the maple secret was shared. Production of syrup continued with a few minor changes; sap was collected in wooden buckets and boiled off in large kettles above outdoor fires. Maple syrup and sugar was the standard sweetener used by colonials up until 1875, when cane sugar first became available.

Today the practice continues with more efficient collection and reduction techniques. Canada accounts for 80 per cent of the world’s production of maple syrup, the rest is produced in the United States. In 1998, the total farm value of Canadian maple syrup was $156 million. Quebec is by far the largest maple product producer in Canada, accounting for 93 per cent of this country’s maple industry. This is followed by Ontario (4 per cent), New Brunswick (2 per cent), and Nova Scotia (1 per cent). Much of Quebec’s maple syrup is exported while Ontario’s is sold domestically.

All trees produce sap, but it is the maple tree that has the unique concentration of sugar. The environment necessary for maple sugaring, warm daytime thawing temperatures with cold (below freezing) nights, occurs only in the Eastern part of North America. The main maple sap producing tree is the Sugar Maple ( Acer saccharum ) followed by the Red Maple ( Acer rubrum ) and Silver Maple ( Acer saccharinum ).