When you think of Canada, you probably think of a few main things (at least I do). Tim Hortons, Hockey, Beavers, Justin Bieber, and Maple Syrup!
Well, we got to experience one of those things on our recent cross-country trip across Canada in the beautiful province of New Brunswick.
We spent the day at a maple farm, and let me tell you, it was everything I wanted it to be and more.
This experience is written from the perspective of an Irish girl, who had never actually tasted maple syrup before visiting Canada, so this was a BIG deal for me.
So if you’re a Canadian reading this and thinking “wow, she’s over-excited”, I think it’s worth being over-excited about! :P
We visited Dumfries Maple Farm, which is an authentic maple sugar shack run by lovely brother and sister duo Nathan and Jane.
This beautiful sugarbush has actually been in the family for 4 generations as part of a family farm.
However, it was left dormant for more than 30 years after the building of the Mactaquac dam when the family left the small community!
But all was not over. Nathan moved to Dumfries in the late 90s and learned the art of making maple syrup. The first tap was in 1998 and today they have 6000 taps and produce and sell maple syrup and other maple products including, maple butter, maple cream, candy, and more!
They sell their products at their sugar shack (during the season), at local farmers' markets, AND online (worldwide- but more on that later!)
If you’re wondering why maple syrup is so unique to New Brunswick, it’s because of the climate.
Due to the unique climate, Canada is one of the only places in the world where you can actually make maple syrup (The USA produces maple syrup too in areas such as Vermont & New York State).
New Brunswick is the 2nd largest producer of maple syrup in Canada (3rd worldwide) and actually produces 10% of the world's maple syrup which results in around over four million kilograms of maple syrup per year, some of it exported to 35 countries.
Indigenous peoples were the first to collect maple sap and boil it to create the syrup, long before the arrival of European settlers.
It was then French settlers who learned from them how to tap trees, collect the sap in buckets, and boil it to reduce it to sweet syrup—or sugar slabs to be stored for later use.
You can’t harvest maple syrup all year round, and there’s actually a very small window in which you can make maple syrup, and it’s entirely dependent on the weather.
We were lucky enough to be in the area during the maple season, which meant we actually got to see sap (maple syrup in its rawest form) essentially drip out of the tree.
Generally, Maple Syrup season runs from mid-march to mid-April, and typically around 4-6 weeks!
But in that time, sugar bushes can make enough maple syrup to last a full year (and more if they wanted).
Interestingly, it takes around 40 liters of sap from the maple tree to make 1 liter of maple syrup!
At Dumfries Maple, they make around 5&½ liters of maple syrup in the season.
This leads me nicely to how you actually make maple syrup.
So essentially sap comes from maple trees, and any Canadian who lives in New Brunswick could theoretically tap their own maple tree to make syrup (of course it would be a very small batch, but how cool is that!).
Traditionally, you tap from a tree, but now bigger productions also use tubing to connect tapped trees.
Dumfries actually use a combination of both!
In order for the sap to be “tappable”, the weather conditions need to be right.
For instance, when the conditions are right, the sap travels up the tree at nighttime, it then freezes in the branches, and in the daytime, it comes back down and that’s when you can tap it.
A perfect balance of warm and cool temperatures are needed.
The sapwood layer of the sugar maple, which is just underneath the bark of the tree, performs the role of a superhighway bringing necessary sugars up from the roots to feed new growth.
When night-time temperatures drop below freezing, the sapwood contracts, which in turn creates a negative pressure that draws the sap up. Then, warm daytime temperatures help the sapwood expand, which creates a positive pressure allowing the sap to flow.
If the conditions were not right overnight, then you won’t be able to tap it. So some days are better than others.
When you “tap” the sap from the tree, it’s naturally around 2% sweet.
We tried it, straight from the tree, and it tastes a bit like sugary water.
In order to turn sap into maple syrup, it needs to be brought to sweetness of around 60-70%.
And how do you make it sweeter? You boil it!
Essentially the amount you boil the sap will dictate what product will be produced.
The longer you boil, the higher the sugar content.
So for example, if you boiled it until it's complete maximum, you would end up with sugar crystals, but throughout the boiling process, you can create other products such as maple butter and maple taffy. But to create maple syrup you want to get to a level of around 60-70% sweetness.
What I love about maple syrup and its making of it is that it’s a completely natural product.
There is no waste that goes into making maple syrup and the only by-products produced are the steam and smoke from burning the wood to boil the maple syrup.
Also in terms of sugar products, maple syrup is actually one of the more healthier options you can find in relation to sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Since it’s totally natural (nothing is added to the sap, nothing), there are some health benefits to maple syrup, including, it contains antioxidants, various vitamins, and minerals and it’s better for digestion. Did you need another excuse to try?
Fun facts about maple
If you’ve got one thing on your Canadian bucket list, then it should be visiting a maple farm in New Brunswick.
Dumfries Maple is a local company, selling local products and you’ll get nothing but happiness when you visit here.
During the maple season, they do breakfast on a Saturday and Sunday where you can get your very own pancakes and maple syrup (I HIGHLY recommend), and afterward, you can pop up to where the maple is made and see it all in action.
You’ll also have the chance to try maple taffy “on the snow” (another first for me, I never had taffy before!) where they essentially drop liquid maple onto cold snow and it hardens and turns into taffy, which you have to eat quickly before it melts! (It’s delicious!)
If you can’t make it to Dumfries Maple but you REALLY want to try their syrup, then you can order it online and they will ship worldwide. That’s a pretty good birthday/Christmas gift if you ask me!
You should definitely make your visit to Dumfries Maple part of a larger New Brunswick style road trip, as there is truly so much to see in this beautiful province, including Fundy National Park, beautiful Fredericton, Hopewell Rocks, Grand Falls, and the world’s largest Axe (yes, you read that right!)
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and a special thank you to everyone at Dumfries Maple who made us feel SO welcome and were just the friendliest people, and Tourism New Brunswick for setting us up!
I’m off to have some maple syrup!