Outside of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US, most people never get a taste of maple syrup, or find out how it is made. On Saturday, March 18, the Prescott-Russell chapter of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (ACFO) took 20 recent immigrants to Canada on a tour of Cassburn Sweets, a maple sugar bush located in Vankleek Hill.

“For a lot of them, this was their first winter,” said ACFO Prescott-Russell Director-General Jacques Héroux.

The immigrants visiting Cassburn Sweets were from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

“It’s an important part of our initiative to make them feel welcome,” Heroux said.

Medine Yemeli recently immigrated from Cameroon in Central Africa. Maple sugar and the process of making it was totally new to her.

“I’ve never seen it there (in Cameroon),” she said.

Yemeli said she has begun adding maple syrup to coffee and tea at home, and also adds it to Sanga, a traditional cassava and corn recipe from Cameroon.

While adults attentively watched, listened, and asked questions of Cassburn Sweets owners Lucie and Michel Lamoureux, and their son Nicolas about the process of making maple syrup from the tree to table, children were noticeably excited about sampling the product. Lucie was busy in the Cassburn Sweets kitchen serving small pancakes topped with syrup to smiling young faces.

Michel said it was a great experience to introduce new residents of Canada to how maple sugar products are made.

“It was comforting, I enjoyed the day,” he said.

Natural and organic

Maple sugar is a totally natural product, but at Cassburn Sweets, it is also a certified organic product. In April 2022, the farm was certified as fully organic by ECOCERT Canada, the organization responsible for ensuring organic food products meet federal government regulations.

“More people are going organic with the food they are buying,” Lucie said.

The ECOCERT approval includes the maple products they sell to other food production businesses for use as ingredients in their products, such as maple-flavoured salad dressing.

The ECOCERT logo now appears on every Cassburn Sweets product, from maple syrup to maple butter. The batch number is also printed on every label for traceability. As part of the organic certification effort, Cassburn Sweets had to begin using a label with their name clearly identified on it, rather than the generic maple syrup labeling many producers use. The new Cassburn Sweets logo was designed by Jean-Sébastien Gagnier of Alfred and the logo is on all products and advertising.

A thorough auditing process is necessary to obtain and maintain ECOCERT approval. Records have to be carefully kept and specifications met.

“It’s really just to ensure we don’t introduce any non-bio (organic) ingredients into the production stream,” Michel said.

As an example, organic maple syrup producers even must make sure the method they use to reduce the foamy head that builds up on boiling sap meets organic regulations. Other procedures have to be followed to maintain the organic function of reverse osmosis processing equipment and the miles of lines through the woods that transport the sap from the trees to the sugar shack. Buffer zones are also required from neighbouring properties.

“It’s a production choice based on a set of values we have,” is how Michel described going organic at Cassburn Sweets.

Slow season

According to Michel, the 2023 maple sugar season has been off to a slow start for Cassburn Sweets. The first sap of the season was boiled on Friday, March 17. He said the decent amount of snow cover remaining in the woods is good for production, especially following a winter with very little ground frost. As always, the longevity of the season depends on the weather.

Cassburn Sweets is located at 2901 Cassburn Road (County Road 11), in Vankleek Hill. For more information, go to https://cassburnsweets.myshopify.com/ .

ACFO tour of Cassburn Sweets photos and video by James Morgan