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  • Writer's pictureAnnemarie Bolduc

The Maple Syrup Can

Updated: Apr 21

Boiled and canned in a woodland sugar shack, here is about that beautiful Québec maple tin!

Pure maple syrup in a classic Québec can, opened in Australia • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020

The maple leaf is the symbol of Canada, and the sweet syrup coming from the trees is a source of Canadian pride. Produced all over the eastern North American woodland regions, especially in Québec, maple syrup is the country's most important native food ingredient. Indigenous peoples were the first to cultivate the sugar sap of maple trees and taught the process to the early settlers. When the snow begins to melt in spring, the water is absorbed into the maple trees, and warmer days push the water back down, which makes it possible to tap. Then the "season of the sugars" begins and lasts for a short period only, normally from mid-March to the end of April. Spring thaw and weather conditions are critical to the length of the sugar season and there are now more challenges adapting to warmer changes. The sap, also called maple water, as it is a transparent liquid, is collected from the tree by drilling a hole in the trunk that will leak into the traditional buckets or modern tubing. It is then carried (traditionally with horses) to the “cabane à sucre” (often translated as sugar shack, camp or house) to be boiled in a large evaporator to process the water as a concentrated sweet syrup. The syrup is then filtered and bottled or canned. More about maple syrup making and organic practices here.

Sugar shack camp in Québec • Photos by Gaétan Bolduc (first 2) and Valérie Goulet

I want to tell you this interesting fact about the famous iconic illustrated syrup can. It is a Québec classic standard packaging and is the preferred format by locals. The original design dates back to 1951 when canning became a new method, and the artist’s name, who won the contest held all over the province, remains a mystery. There are a few versions now, and all represent a traditional sugar camp winter scene. The maple producer’s info is added on a sticker on the back of the can. The glass bottles shaped like maple leaves and plastic or metal containers (looking like oil tins) are more prevalent in tourist shops. Packaging depends on industry standards and cost, but the syrup can be preserved for up to 3 years in cans of metal or glass jars and only two years in plastic. Once opened, the product can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 months... if it lasts that long.

Classic maple syrup cans at Jean-Talon market, Montréal, Qc, Canada • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019

Each time I make the trip to Québec, I never miss bringing back a few cans purchased in the region where I was born, all packed safely in my suitcases, as those are like precious gold to me! Gladly, Canadian maple syrup can be purchased in most Australian supermarkets. But as for that format, it is, I assumed, for regulation reasons, not exported internationally. On my last visit to Québec, I went to some maple-making equipment stores and found a few models available and a new one I had never seen before. It is up to the maple makers to choose, and all they need to do when selling their product is add the necessary info on a sticker that goes on the blank space on the side of the can. That saves time and cost on packaging for many, but some producers still prefer other types of packaging. I visited some family-hobby sugar camps that use modern and traditional craft methods. I was amazed by the vintage canners that they were all using. It originally works manually, but some will use a drill to do a quicker job. As making syrup is teamwork, a person fills empty cans while the syrup is still hot, and another uses the canner to seal the lid. Like jam making, the correct heat temperature and sugar level ensure the sterilization. Letting the cans cool down in the snow helps preserve the syrup's colour. All about the colour grades next.

Canning and grading maple syrup • Photos © Bottle and Brush Studio 2023

If you visit Québec or other provinces of Canada, you will find more maple syrup than you can imagine and many confectionery made with it. Maple products made with syrup are so delicious, like maple butter, maple sugar or flakes, maple candy, maple cones, maple whisky liquor, gin and more! Pure maple syrup is clear, translucent, and has different quality grades, classifications, and sub-categories. The early harvest one is very light with the finest delicate flavour reminding freshly boiled syrup. The light to amber colour with a balance of mild, sweet and rich maple flavour is the most popular and typically used for pancakes and cooking. The late harvest darker one has a strong caramelized taste but loses the maple sap flavour. This one is mainly imported internationally as it is less expensive. The last ones, ultra dark, are only used as a commercial flavouring ingredient for the food industry, like in the classic maple leaf cookies. Many commercial brands of table syrups should be avoided as they contain corn syrup mixed with artificial maple flavour. In Québec, we call those poor qualities and fake maple syrup: “sirop de poteau” (telephone post syrup).

Maple products at Jean-Talon market, Montréal • Photos © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019

Pure maple syrup is 100% natural, has nutritional benefits, and offers high sources of antioxidants and nutrients with fewer calories than honey. It is a good source of energy and one of the few good sugars, making it an excellent substitute for sugar in most recipes. Maple syrup is commonly used on crêpes, pancakes, and waffles, but there are many ways to use it as an ingredient for desserts and savoury dishes. The traditional “tire sur neige” (taffy on snow) fascinates visitors, and locals never miss the chance to enjoy one during the sugaring celebration. If you want to find organic syrup in Australia and learn why maple syrup cannot be produced but remains a sustainable imported product, go to my Organic Maple Syrup story. Maple syrup is the star of the Canadian native terroir, but the boreal forest hides many other delicious flavours in trees like birch and conifers. Wild food and foraging are back in fashion; another story to come on Snowy Foodie!

Favourite amber maple syrup • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020

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