Things couldn't be sweeter as Oxford County 4-H clubs hold annual Pancake Breakfasts at Jakeman's Maple Products near Woodstock
Carriage Driver Phil Wait shuttles visitors around the property. (Chris Funston/Woodstock Sentinel-Review)
Travel down Trillium Line in Sweaburg during a weekend in March and not only will you find the home of the largest maple syrup producers in the province, but a day full of family friendly fun and activities.
This March, Jakeman's Maple Products welcome members of local 4-H Clubs for their 13th annual Pancake Breakfast. Meals are served Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. throughout the month, along with this Wednesday and Good Friday, with Easter Sunday being the only exception.
Once you've arrived, you're welcomed by the immediate smell of maple syrup, as Cynthia Montgomery is often found putting syrup to ice to make maple taffy. Hard to miss is the horse-drawn sleigh driven by Phil Wait and Jannis Marshall, who will gladly introduce you to their two horses and take you on a brisk trip around the property.
If you're only there for the pancakes, then you'd better get inside fast. Seats fill up quickly, as 4-H club members offer a variety of breakfast foods, including the obvious pancakes, along with sausage and maple-baked beans made with, you guessed it, Jakeman's Maple Syrup.
“It's wonderful,” said Mary Jakeman. “It's a great educational tool for the kids themselves, but also for other kids to understand that 4-H is very important.”
Around 1,500 people are served throughout the month. On nicer days, up to 300 have visited the farm to support 4-H.
“This is the first crop of the year. This is the best time to operate a pancake house,” said Jakeman.
Each day, a different 4-H club takes over the breakfast. This Saturday, it was the Embro II club's turn. All proceeds from the breakfasts are split between all of the 4-H clubs and go to funding their trips and activities.
Shaylan Masson, 17, has been taking part in the annual breakfast for the past five years and always looks forward to it.
“It's fun. There's a steady crowd all day, every year,” she said. “It's nice to be able to know that we have the support from the community to support our club.”
Local 4-H leader Marian Sterk explained the event as a whole is a great experience for each of the kids. With 4-H focusing on personal development, it's things like cooking in the kitchen and waiting on tables that promotes growth in each of the kids.
“They're able to take skills away from this to use in other parts of their life.”
Once you've had your fill, you can find out for yourself how syrup goes from tree to bottle. Travel across the road and down the winding dirt trail and you'll come across Uncle Bruce Jakeman's sugar house, complete with Uncle Bruce himself and his signature wide flat-brimmed hat.
Inside the shanty, you'll find his wood-burning maple syrup evaporator. Sap enters at one end and out the other comes finished maple syrup, fresh and ready to top your pancakes. About 700 trees and three species of maple are tapped and tubed on the property, which are hard to miss once you've made your way down the trail. It takes up to 40 barrels of sap to create just one barrel of syrup.
“People are always astonished about how much sap it takes to make a gallon or a litre of syrup,” Bruce Jakeman explained.
One of the first questions he's always asked is if he ever gets tired of the taste, and the simple answer, he says, is no – there's almost always a bottle sitting on his kitchen table.
“I have syrup all the time. Sugar gets a lot of bad press, but there's a lot of good stuff in it too. It’s a good healthy product, and like anything you consume it in moderation. I've still got all of my teeth,” he joked.