A Spring Message from our Executive Director, Deb Pella Keen
This spring’s cooler start is keeping maple syrup flowing through sugar bushes and keeping producers across Ontario happy. The colder nights and warmer days have created the perfect conditions for making maple syrup – welcome news following last spring’s unusually warm temperatures, which impacted overall production.
This time of year is known as Ziinsibaakwadoke Giizis, or the Syrup Moon, when sap begins to flow from the trees. Maple syrup has been cherished by Indigenous peoples for centuries and was one of many gifts shared with early settlers.
Today, Canada makes over 75% of the world production with more than 8,600 producers of maple syrup across the country. So it is hardly surprising that we have come to know maple syrup as something uniquely Canadian. There are a lot of imposters in your grocery aisle, but there’s only one that you can turn over and see just one ingredient – that pure, delicious maple flavour, that tastes better and comes with a bonus of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. That is what really sets it apart from the imposters!
A few facts about maple syrup making:
- Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the most commonly used native maple. It has the highest sugar content and longest sugaring season
- Sugaring season typically runs from March through April, with an average of 20 days over a 6-week season
- 40 litres of sap is required to make 1 litre of syrup
- Each tapped sugar maple tree can produce about 1 litre syrup
- Bumper sap years depend on the growing season of the previous summer to store as much carbohydrates as possible
- Cold nights and warm days are critical to get sap flowing
- Maple syrup season ends when the buds on the branches begin to swell. After this the sap will begin to have a bitter aftertaste.
Canada has a syrup grading system which is based on colour, not quality, or more specifically, the amount of light transmission. In general, the lighter the colour, the more delicate the maple flavour, but flavour may also vary by growing region, because of factors such as tree genetics, weather conditions, and processing techniques. My favourite grade is Amber – we like maple syrup with a bit more intense ‘maple’ flavour.
With many of us staying closer to home these days, and venturing into local food production (gardens, chickens etc.) there has also been a increased interest in trying out maple syrup making on a small scale. If you have access to a few mature sugar maples, there is a lot of guidance on how to tap trees, the size and number of taps.
Our family tapped 4 sugar maple trees this spring and are producing our own home grown syrup. It is very labour intensive but hugely rewarding.
Maple syrup time is also a time when many Canadians plan to visit a sugar to home to see how it is done commercially or for education purposes. Unfortunately, many tours are cancelled this spring, but you can find more information here. todoontario.com/maple-festivals/
For more information please see the following links:
- How to identify and properly tap a maple tree (OntarioMaple.com)
- A beginners guide to creating maple syrup (OntarioMaple.com)
- How sugar maple trees work (Massachusetts Maple Producers Association)
- About Canadian Maple Syrup – from Agriculture and Agrifood Canada [PDF]
Happy Sweet Spring!
Deb Pella Keen and the MLF Team