When winter is winding down in Eastern Canada, when snowbanks are shrinking and you see puddles on the road instead of ice, you'll probably feel like getting out and getting moving. You and the sugar maples are having the same reaction. It's spring and the sap is rising!
Sap usually runs from mid-March to mid-April. Syrup producers look for warm days that draw the sap up the tree and below freezing nights that draw the sap back down. This yoyo-ing keeps the sap from reaching the buds too soon, because then the sap flavour gets "buddy", and that's not what syrup fans want.
Pure maple syrup contains five minerals and four vitamins plus as much calcium as milk. All that sweetness and it's good for you, too! Canada No. 1 Extra Light has a delicacy that surprises pancake-eaters accustomed to those gooey concoctions that grocery stores sell as "table syrup". At the other end of the scale, Canada No. 2 Amber is a robust syrup that's excellent for cooking. The Australians put Canadian maple syrup on ice cream; the Japanese use it in teriyaki sauce. It's used in drinks, as a meat glaze, in mustard and yogurt ~ on or in just about anything edible.
So now that spring is calling you outside and your taste buds are aching for maple syrup treats, come to the sugar bush ~ it's a tradition going back long before Europeans arrived here. One of the best places to visit is Lanark County, the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario. It's 50 km (just over 30 miles) west of Ottawa, and it's loaded with maple trees (making it a fine area for autumn sightseeing too).
Most of the sugar-bush operators in Lanark County welcome visitors on weekends, and some are open seven days a week during the sugar season. You can see the sap, looking just like water, dripping from " taps " into buckets hung on the trees. Or you can see it flowing along plastic tubing, encouraged on its way by gravity and a gentle vacuum. Pipelines are a lot less work than buckets, and let producers tap trees in places they couldn't reach with horses or tractors to pick up the sap.
At the sugar shack ~ it's usually called a "shack" or "shanty" even when it's large and modern ~ you can watch the sap bubbling in large evaporator pans, clouds of steam rising as 40 litres of sap boil down to 1 litre of syrup. (A new technique saves fuel and time by using reverse osmosis to take two-thirds of the water out of the sap before it's boiled ~ the same process that's used on submarines to get drinking water from salt water).
The result is great maple syrup and an opportunity for a great day in the country. Most producers sell syrup on site, and many offer other maple products. There are pancake houses, nature trails, sleigh rides, and special events, and in the city of Perth, the Festival of Maples ~ three days of special events that include a pancake breakfast (of course!), maple goodies galore, the "Maple Olympics", music, live theatre, and children's activities.
For more information, contact the Lanark County Tourism Association, P.O. Box 37 Sunset Blvd., Perth, Ontario K7H 3E2; Phone (613) 267-4200 ext. 142; fax (613) 267-2964; Email email@example.com.
Photos courtesy Fulton's Pancake House and Sugar Bush, Lanark County Tourism Association, and Clarence Fulton. Additional information/locations are shown below.
Fulton's Pancake House and Sugar Bush, Pakenham, Ontario - Telephone 1-888-538-5866
Wheelers Maple Products, Cumberland, Ontario - Telephone 613-278-2090
Gibbons Family Farm, Frankville, Ontario - Telephone 1-877-440-7887
Your comments are welcome at dhaaheim at telus dot netHttp://www.tourcanada.com -- Revised: April 9, 2001
CANADA, a clean, spacious, scenic, fun place to visit!