A maple syrup field trip

Sometime last month, Andrew mentioned that he went to a maple syrup festival when he was little and that he wanted to go again. Coincidentally, soon after I saw that the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival was happening around the GTA so naturally, we went to check it out!

Back to elementary school

We went to Kortright Centre in Vaughn (which is about a 30-40 minute drive from Mississauga). I’d been here on a bunch of field trips in elementary school so it was really interesting to be back over a decade later to see the same visitor’s centre and trails exactly how they were! We were lucky to have much of the place to ourselves when we arrived – it was around 2pm so all the school trips were wrapping up and it was pretty rainy so in total, there were probably around eight people around (including us)!

Thank gods for 100% waterproof rain jackets!

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Learning about maple syrup

The trail was set up so that while walking towards the demonstrations, you pass “checkpoints” where you would learn things, including:

  • How to identify a maple
  • How “sweetwater” was discovered
  • How sap becomes syrup

The most mind-blowing thing I learned? The “syrup” that drips from the trees is mostly water!!! WHAT. (I mean, it’s kind of a *duh* but I suppose I never thought about it before!).

The first demonstration explains how Pioneers made sap. Basically, they burned three fires at increasing temperatures then they reduced the “sweetwater” over the fire until it became thick and sweet enough to be syrup! One of the best things about having the entire place to ourselves was really getting to be interactive with the staff running the demos. I definitely felt like I was back in elementary school, asking tons of questions and answering when they said “so what differences do you notice?”; thankfully we didn’t have to compete with any actual kids for talking time, haha!

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A few other things we learned at the first demo were:

  • The sweetest maple syrup is made from the sweetwater that is collected at the beginning of the season. (Another great thing about having the demo to ourselves? We got to taste the sap straight from the tree! We came towards the end of this year’s season which ends in early April, so there was barely a taste at all, but we technically drank from a tree and that in itself is pretty sweet).
  • For the sap to flow, the temperatures have to be +5 during the day and -5 at night. The already tiny window is made smaller by the fluctuations in temperature caused by global warming, which actually happened with this year’s warm February and inconsistent March weather.
  • Sap flows upwards (WHAT. I mean, *duh* again, but also WHAT.) so there’s a hole at the bottom of the short tap they put into the tree that allows sap to flow out into the bucket.
  • Because the Pioneers didn’t have suitable refrigeration, they would often reduce the syrup into a solid brick then break pieces off as needed!
  • Since maple syrup is a reduction, you only end up with a fraction of the sweetwater you collected.

The next demonstration showed us how maple syrup is made today! The techniques are generally the same, but with more modern technology. Instead of three cauldrons and three fires, they use a machine called an “evaporator”, and instead of individual taps and buckets on each tree, they are all connected by tubes and drip into a large storage tank! Apparently when there’s a heavier flow, the sap sounds like a running faucet.

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Maple syrup is one of those things I often used but had never really considered the production process (truth be told, I think I had it in my head that sap came out of the tree as syrup already… *facepalm*), and it’s yet piece of our earth that’s being affected by global warming. Overall, I enjoyed, participated, and learned a lot more during this field trip than I thought I would have!

The Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival is still on until April 8!

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