Most of us are familiar with the sweet, sticky substance called maple syrup, which traditionally is harvested from sugar maples in eastern Canada. But a new (and very delicious) product – bigleaf maple syrup – is being discovered and promoted right here in British Columbia. We trekked down to Duncan for the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival to learn more.
The festival spans two days and is run out of the BC Forest Discovery Centre (http://bcforestdiscoverycentre.com/). Our afternoon adventure began with a video outlining the careful – and sometimes tedious – process of boiling down the bigleaf maple sap into syrup. It is a procedure that requires many hours and very close attention. And it certainly explains why pure maple syrup is the price it is – it takes 68 litres (71 quarts) of sap to create a single litre (1.05 quarts) of finished syrup.
Our next stop at the festival was with Louis, the Sapsucker (which is what maple syrup enthusiasts call themselves). Louis took us on a guided tour of one of the walking trails at the site, taught us how to identify bigleaf maples even when there are no leaves on them, and showed us the basics of tapping the trees.
Bigleaf maples are apparently pretty much indestructible – Louis pointed out several tap holes from past years that had healed over nicely. Sugar maples, the common sap producer in Quebec, are much more delicate and can be easily killed. So, it stands to reason that the bigleaf variety of maple would be the one of choice if maple syrup producers had their ‘druthers’. At this point harvests are done from wild trees in the forests of B.C., but perhaps down the road it won’t be unusual to see cultivated bigleaf maple farms.
Louis demonstrated the tapping method – a simple drill hole into the tree, insertion of a spigot and drip tube, which feeds in to a covered plastic bucket. The covers are necessary here on the west coast because of bear activity in the wilds.
We also learned from Louis that weather and sunshine exposure have a great influence on the amount of sap that a tree will yield. Time of year for tapping is a consideration as well – late winter and early spring are the best.
Following the introduction to tapping we wandered back to an open field where various vendors and bigleaf maple syrup enthusiasts had set up booths. Much to our surprise there were a number of vendors selling bigleaf maple syrup, produced from trees on their properties. Tasting opportunities abounded and we discovered that, although the syrups all came from the same species of tree, flavours varied based on where those trees were located. We are fans of the dark syrup and stronger flavour, but there were also lighter, amber syrups available. Terroir, apparently, has everything to do with the finished product, as it does with tea and wine.
The folks at Teafarm (http://www.teafarm.ca/) were also set up at the festival, offering free cups of their Mad Hatter Tea blended with the local maple syrup – a refreshing and different take on ‘the way of tea’, for sure.
Of course, we ended up purchasing small bottles of a number of varieties of syrup, which immediately got served over pancakes at breakfast the next day. There is still some left and I am thinking it would be very lovely over something simple like a really good vanilla ice cream – the local syrup seems to be thicker than the product from out east and would make an excellent addition to a special dish. One vendor was offering a variety of maple syrup-added foodstuffs that included a maple salad dressing, jam and maple whipped butter – clearly the uses for this sweet local product are varied.
Although the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is over for this year, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the 2017 version. And if you happen to see any bigleaf maple syrup for sale in your travels, be sure to purchase a bottle – you won’t regret it, guaranteed!
The Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is held at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan at 2892 Drinkwater Road.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.802032 Long. -123.715267
N 48 48.122 W 123 42.916