The hugely popular Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival is back at the BC Forest Discovery Centre for a seventh year on Saturday, Feb. 1. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., this community surges in to see how sap is tapped from local bigleaf maples and turned into syrup that rivals the flavor of any produced in the Eastern provinces.
The Discovery Centre has partnered with the Sapsuckers, a group of Island maple syrup producers and this event is just about the only place people can purchase bigleaf maple syrup.
With many experts from the group on hand, visitors can explore various aspects of maple sugaring in a fun festival atmosphere with live entertainment and the aroma of hot syrup from the evaporator filling the air.
Tree-tapping demos with members of the Sapsuckers, syrup tasting and mini-workshops will occur throughout the day and property owners will be able to get start-up kits and other tapping supplies so they can go home and tap their own trees.
Katherine Banman of the Sapsuckers is ready for the event. "We've had some warm weather but it should be fine. We've had a bit of a dry winter so far so the water table has taken a while to come up and it's still not all the way up yet so we're watching that," she said. "The trees usually need a higher water table before they'll give much sap. However we've been tapping some of the trees in the wetter areas of our
own property and they're still doing pretty good. Overall we've had a year with very good quality but not too much quantity of syrup so far."
Banman said the snow pack doesn't affect them that much.
"We usually need some freezing weather followed by warmer weather and sunshine with a high water table. That's gives the best flows of sap, to our knowledge. But the trees sometimes really surprise us," she said.
Banman said it's quite possible to tap your own bigleaf maples.
"You don't need acreage. Sometimes even people on city lots have one or two trees and they can tap just enough for themselves. Even that sap is really great. You can make tea or hot chocolate with it and season soup and stew. You can also make rice with it and it adds sweetness and flavour," she said.
This year's festival will be similar to previous years.
"There will be tours in the sugar bush and people can learn about tapping trees in the woods and there will be power point presentations.
"And this year, for the first time, we're hoping to have videos. We just recorded two videos on how to tap a tree and they will be playing in a loop for people to watch.
"Hopefully that will generate questions and be good for beginners who can then come to the presentations and ask us questions directly. The producers that are there will be able to answer them," Banman said.
Organizers at the Centre are also looking forward to the event, according to board member Steve Lorimer.
"It's a popular day. Usually during this period from January to Easter we don't operate but we have this special event. It's proven to be quite an attraction. I think last year there were more than 1,700 people show up," he said.
It tends to bring in a new crowd, as well.
"They have a little different interest. People are often quite surprised that we can get maple syrup from our trees out here on the west coast. It's more common on the east coast," he said.
Bigleaf maples are really common on eastern Vancouver Island. "We have lots of them. Some people would call them weeds. They grow really well," he said. "This is one of those things where we have interest all up and down the Island from Campbell River right down to Victoria and everywhere in between. People come by to learn more about it and to participate."
Tasting is offered from 10 a.m. onward at the festival and the competition awards are handed out at 12:30 p.m. The Centre will have the Green Hornet train running, so families can jump on board every half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There is a special entry price for this event only: $8 for adults, seniors, students, and youth, $6 for children (two-12 years) and free entry for children under two with an adult.
And, while you're waiting for the big day, why not visit bcforestmuseum.com, click on Maple Syrup and then check out the online maple syrup recipes? Then you'll really want to drop in for a taste.