Maple syrup is as quintessentially Canadian as hockey. Us Canadians love our maple! We put it on or with everything! You can enjoy it straight as maple syrup or use it to make otherworldly creations. There is maple fudge, maple sugar, maple taffy, maple cotton candy, maple donuts, maple pie, maple apple sauce, maple ice cream, maple granola, maple baked beans, maple glazed carrots, maple fruit hybrid jam, maple mustard, maple ham, maple bacon, maple glazed salmon, maple alcohol. Ok I’m starting to sound like Bubba Gump! And we’re not just eating this stuff. You can find all sorts of toiletries made with some part of the maple syrup production from soaps, lotions to lip balm and candles. Ok, you get my point. We’re not only the largest producer in the world of this heavenly, amber goodness – we’re also big consumers!
Maple syrup is made from sap of the… you guessed it, Maple tree. The sap is reduced by evaporating the water leaving behind a rich, golden sweetness. Although maple syrup can be bought any where in Canada, if you want to bear witness to the production process ensure to head to eastern Canada, specifically the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia.
Maple sap begins running when the days start to warm up in late winter, early spring. The warmth of the day and the refreezing of the tree at night acts as a pump getting the sap flowing. This usually begins in March and can go right into April. The entire season can last anywhere from 3 – 6 weeks depending on good Ol’ Mother Nature!
This past week Q and I decided to head to one of the largest maple sugar producers in Lanark county – Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush – check out their website here.
Don’t expect a small ma and pa operation at Fulton’s. The Pancake House seats 120 hungry patrons, there are 4 walking trails, horse drawn sleigh rides, face painting, children’s play area, camp fires, live music, maple store, a heritage path with demonstrations on how syrup was made long ago and you can take a gander at how the syrup is massed produced today – all this settled and surrounded by 400 acres of maple trees, which the Fulton’s have farmed for 5 generations (over 170 years) ! This place is so large they have an information booth with maps marking out each attraction.
The snow had started falling gently as Q and I arrived around 11:00 am totally certain the breakfast crowd would have disappeared. Well no such luck. To our dismay the first parking lot (field) was full and they were directing traffic into the overflow parking lot (field)! Wowzers – it was packed! I looked for the tell tale sign we had entered a maple bush, a metal bucket hanging from a tree as we made the lengthy walk from the parking lot towards the pancake house. After passing the information booth the lineup to get into the pancake house was visible and was clear out the door by at least 100 feet! So much for missing the breakfast crowd. Alright, we thought, this must be the lunch crowd – it’s 11 o’clock! Silly us.
Time for a plan change. Instead of starting off with the pancake breakfast (yeah it was 11 but we still hadn’t eaten), we decided to tour the farm, walk some trails and then surely the lineup would be gone.
We stopped first at the building where they exhibit how maple syrup is made in this day and age. It was a walk down memory lane as I reminisced back to the time my father and mother produced their own maple products. My parents farm was much smaller but the process was all the same.
Exiting the production building we checked the pancake house line again….. still quite long.
Next we moseyed over to the newly created Maple Heritage Path. The Fulton’s have taken great effort and care in reproducing and demonstrating how maple syrup was made in the days of old. Again I searched high and low for a bucket hung to a tree with no such luck – not even on the path on how maple syrup “used” to be made. The snow had turned to rain which made for a slippery walk down the path which consisted of a teepee, bed made of logs and tree branches, small shelters and equipment which were all replicas of what would have been used by the pioneers.
Two gentlemen told stories by a roaring fire which was used to heat rocks that would then be placed in a large hollowed out log for the syrup to be made in… wow, what a crazy long process this must have been.
We walked by the pancake house again – the line up was still out the door and didn’t appear to be getting any smaller. hmmmm… Seeing we had made it close to where the taffy was being made outside, we headed over. Two young ladies were pouring some newly boiled syrup into a snow trough and winding the sticky concoction up on sticks. Not only unbelievably sweet, this stuff is so sticky it can rip the caps right off your teeth. I say this from experience! Finishing the taffy we headed to the store, knowing we’d pass the pancake house line again. Yep… still as long.
Although the maple store was tiny it was packed from floor to rafters with anything and everything maple! The best part, and I give two big thumbs up to Fulton’s for this, you get to sample everything. Maple cotton candy, maple sugar, maple fudge, maple popcorn – I was on the verge of a diabetic coma and I’m not even diabetic! I bought some maple candy. I then picked up some maple lotion… lip balm… soap. I decided I really did need some maple syrup – ok, it was now time to leave the store before I bought every product off the shelf! Now just a word of caution to those who may be new to buying pure maple products – they are expensive, but they are worth it!
I asked the girl at the cash when the line for the pancake house usually dies down. For the love of God we couldn’t come all this way and not get into the pancake house! She advised the crowd usually dissipates around 2:00 pm in the afternoon. Well, it was 1:00 pm by this time and we thought, what’s another hour? We decided to walk the smallest trail back to the parking lot and drop off our goods. We strolled the path while families played the game of “I Spy” the Fulton’s had setup as an activity.
I know Fulton’s is a mass producer, but I was expecting at least one bucket… just a small bucket even as a reminder not only of yesteryear but of how sap is still collected by those who make it for themselves!
Once back to the car we realized that the overflow parking had emptied considerably. Yes! The pancake line would be nothing but a memory by now. Hungry and anxious to get our pancakes we still took our time and strolled back towards the pancake house. I was glancing to my right at the children playing in the snow as we neared the restaurant. Q was looking to our left at the main parking lot. “Were those buses here before?” he asked. I turned towards the direction Q was facing and to my horror, there on the far side of the pancake house were two school buses filled to the rim with young adults. It must have just pulled in because they were only now beginning to unload. The teens exited the bus and began walking towards… please God let it be the Maple Heritage Path, the horse drawn sleigh rides, the bathroom any where but NOOOOOOO – they headed towards the pancake house which still had a significantly long line!!! We had been waiting for hours to get into this place. If we didn’t get ahead of the bus kids we wouldn’t make it in before the whole operation closed up shop at 4:00 pm.
I knew I couldn’t make a mad dash with camera in hand with the ground being slippery from the snow and rain that had fallen. Besides I have delicate ankles! I looked at Q and he instinctively knew what he needed to do. He had to run like the wind and beat those teens to the pancake line.
Now he is my husband so I am partial, but I will tell you, I was so proud of him that day. He sprinted, like full out sprinted across the parking lot, dodging other patrons, hurdling small children. He was agile and swift like a deer! Go Q, Go Q I kept repeating in my head. As the bus group were just about to the pancake line, Q slid into place just ahead of them! Yeahhhhh!!!!!! My husband, my hero had gotten in line in front of the bus and now I may get to eat.
I waddled my way safely across the parking lot to the pancake line, taking my place in front of the bus group. Where we were standing was only half as far from the restaurant entrance as earlier in the day and it still took us 45 minutes to get our food. Once at the counter making your order you are squeezed through quickly. I realized the line up wasn’t from the tardiness of the staff. Nope! It is the patrons whom once finished eating want to sit around and chat. Move ass people, there is two bus loads of hungry young people coming in.
Our breakfast (at 2:00 pm) consisted of two pancakes (a bit on the wee side), two sausage and Q had the baked beans as well. I added a maple sticky pudding to try. Again another kudos to Fulton’s – you get to pump out how little or how much maple syrup you want!
We were serenaded during our meal in a quaint, rustic pancake house. Ok, now I could see why the previous patrons were lingering. I sipped my coffee enjoying the view from the window I sat next to. The kids play area was visible from my seat and then, on a tree far from the connected forest, was the old fashion bucket I had been searching for! My faith in the Fultons was restored as no maple tour is complete without seeing at least one, metal bucket hanging from a tap in a tree.
If your vacation takes you to the Ottawa area during maple syrup season, make sure to take a run out to Lanark county and the Fulton Pancake House and Sugar Bush! Thank you Fulton’s for a fun packed, sugary, sweet day!
What is your favourite recipe using maple syrup?
~True North Nomad
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