Late winter and early spring is maple time in Canada and the northern United States, and this means it is time for maple sugar, maple butter, and maple syrup festivals. From mid-February through April, the sap is running, trees are tapped, and maple syrup festivals abound. Canada produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup, much of it in Quebec. The Northern States, particularly Vermont, also export premium grade maple syrup to the rest of the world. The syrup that is produced from varieties of maple trees has been used for hundreds of years as a sweetener and for flavouring in cooking and baking. Most of us know maple syrup best as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and ice cream. Maple sugar candy, maple butter, maple toffee, maple fudge and maple butter are also beloved treats. As the cost of producing cane sugar has dropped during the past two hundred years, the labour-intensive maple syrup and maple-sugar industry has kept the costs higher. For many people, organic pure maple syrup is too expensive to have on a daily basis and is enjoyed as an occasional special treat.
Maple syrup festivals have evolved from the “sugaring-off parties” of pioneer days. For families who want to escape the winter blahs and enjoy a day trip, there are many maple festivals held within a short drive of major cities and urban areas. A maple syrup festival is a great way to enjoy the outdoors as a family, teach children about an important resource, and remind us of the history of maple syrup in our country.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book in the Little House on the Prairie series, Little House in the Big Woods, describes in detail the procedures surrounding Sugaring Off time at her grandparents’ home in the woods of Wisconsin. For several weeks at the end of winter, families and communities would pool their tools, labour, and other resources to tap maple trees and obtain the sap that would be boiled down to maple syrup. This social event was time for women to admire new babies, share new recipes, knitting, sewing and quilting pattern, and exchange news as well as make maple syrup, maple fudge, and maple sugar. The end of maple syrup season culminated in a Sugaring Off Party, which meant lots of food, music, dancing, games, and of course, maple syrup!
Maple Syrup Festivals Near You
Here are a few resources listing maple festivities and sugaring-off events across North America. Please feel free to add a link in the comments section if you know of a great maple festival near you.
Common Activities at Maple Festivals
Maple festivals are not just about maple syrup, but also a celebration of the end of winter and beginning of spring. Plan to spend the entire day and enjoy the activities offered. They often include:
- horse drawn hay rides or tractor and wagon rides
- face painting for kids
- historic exhibits of the tools used to tap the maple trees, collect the sap, boil it down, process and bottle it
- pioneer life experiences such as spinning, churning butter, dipping candles, making maple syrup as the Native Americans and pioneers did, and making maple sugar and maple candy.
- all day pancake breakfast with lots of maple syrup
- maple sugar treats
Don’t Forget the Following:
- Dress in layers and wear sturdy walking boots or shoes. February, March and April can have weather that swings wildly from sunny and warm to blizzard-like and frigid temperatures.
- If you are bringing babies or toddlers, use a carrier or a jogging stroller for rough terrain. Many maple festivals are held in the woods in conservation areas or public parks, and do not have paved walking trails.
- Bring Wet Ones or diaper wipes to clean up after tasting that sticky maple syrup or maple sugar.
- Bring some cash to buy fresh pure organic maple syrup and maple sugar gifts on site!
- Remember a digital camera or smartphone to capture pictures of your little ones (and big ones) pouring maple syrup on the snow to make sticky treats, or digging into a big plate of flapjacks with syrup.
If you have school-aged children or are homeschooling your kids, do a little preparation prior to your outing with these free printable activity sheets on Maple Syrup.
And remember – you are not just taking your kids out on a fun daytrip, you are making family memories.