What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada? Some may think about our wildlife like beavers and moose. Hockey and snowy winters may have popped into your head. Or perhaps your brain went straight to saying “eh” or “sorry”. The classic answer that comes to my mind is sticky, sweet maple syrup.
Canada is known for maple syrup for good reason. It produces around 70% of the global market. In 2019, 13.2 million gallons of maple syrup were produced in Canada, and the value of maple syrup exported was about 400 million dollars. Maple syrup is such a representation of Canada that we often sell maple products in our tourist shops and let’s not forget about the maple leaf on our flag. But maple syrup has been harvested and used for much longer than its time spent as a Canadian stereotype.
Harvesting of maple syrup began long ago by the Indigenous people of the Eastern Woodlands including the Abenaki, Haudenosaunee and Mi’kmaq, as well as the Anishinaabe. The Anishinaabe preserved meats for the winter months by curing them with maple sap. According to Haudenosaunee tradition, this technique originated when the “sweet water” from a maple tree was used to cook venison; although, there are many different legends describing how the use of maple sap began. The collection of sap occurs in the Spring during the natural “sugaring off” period, which is called the “maple moon” or “sugar month” by the Anishinaabe. There are various techniques used to harvest the sap including cutting a v-shape in the bark and inserting a willow or basswood tube into the tree to allow the sap to drip into birch-bark bowls. Sap can then be made into syrup by leaving it out to freeze and removing the frozen water, or evaporating the water off with hot rocks or fire. When European settlers arrived in the 1500s and 1600s, they learned how to harvest maple sap and create maple syrup and sugar from the Indigenous peoples. Settlers began producing maple syrup in the late 1700s and early 1800s. At the time, harvesting and using maple sap was more convenient and cost-effective than cane sugar which had to be imported.
Before researching maple syrup and its history, I was unaware of what a hot commodity it is. Surprisingly, the price of maple syrup is about 25 times as much as crude oil. In Quebec, maple syrup production is controlled by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FQMSP). They control the price, sales, and exports of maple syrup and receive some of the profits. However, some people bypass them to sell illegally on the maple syrup black market. This set the scene and motive for the most expensive heist in Canadian history.
The great Canadian maple syrup heist took place over the course of a year in 2011 and 2012. Thieves stole close to 10,000 barrels of maple syrup from an FQMSP warehouse worth over $18 million. They rented space in the warehouse so that they could freely come and go without suspicion. They transported a few barrels of syrup out of the warehouse at a time, emptied them into their own barrels and then filled them back up with water before returning them. At one point they became more reckless and made the risky decision to stop refilling the empty barrels. They were able to sell the syrup outside of Quebec and most of it made its way into the legal market. They managed to get away with this undetected for a year because this particular warehouse did not have security cameras or alarms and the inspections at these storage warehouses only occurred once a year. The operation unravelled when the yearly inspection took place in July of 2012. An FQMSP inspector accidentally discovered the stolen syrup when they knocked over an empty barrel that should have weighed 600 lbs. Following the investigation, dozens of people were arrested for being involved in the heist; but, because most of the maple syrup had already entered the legal market, there was no way to track it down or recover it.
It seems that maple syrup is as Canadian as it can get. Maple syrup has been an important resource in Indigenous history and remains important to many Indigenous peoples to this day. It represents the country on our flag and in our gift shops. And it was the sweet ingredient at the center of the most Canadian heist there ever was!
While many enjoy their maple syrup on pancakes or waffles, it can also be used to make delicious desserts. Try the recipe below if you’re feeling adventurous!
Be sure to share on social media whatever you create and tag the Sidney Museum.
Old Fashioned Maple Fudge
Adapted from Elizabeth Lampman’s recipe on Frugal Mom Eh
- 2 cups maple syrup
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
- Grease a metal loaf pan with butter and line it with parchment paper.
- In a large saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat then simmer for 5 minutes. If the syrup rises, lift the pan from the heat for a few seconds and swirl the syrup to keep it from scorching.
- Pour in the heavy cream without stirring it in and bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer until it reaches 236°F on a candy thermometer, about 20-25 minutes, swirling when it rises.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter without stirring and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment on an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture thickens and just starts to lose its sheen, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overbeat – fudge should be thick, but still easily pourable.
- Fold in chopped walnuts if using.
- Immediately pour the fudge into the prepared pan, spread out evenly and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
- Lift the fudge from the pan and cut into squares. If it is tough to lift the fudge out of the pan, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.