Aside from lumberjacks and Mounties, Canada is famously associated with the maple tree. Its leaf is even on the national flag. For shoppers, there's nothing as satisfyingly Canadian to buy as maple syrup - and nothing nicer than oodles of the golden gloop, dribbled on to pancakes, and no doubt down chins, for breakfast.
In fact, Canadians apparently love it so much that, when they're sick of putting it on pancakes or fruit salad, they even drizzle it on to baked beans.
Quebec is apparently the world's largest producer of maple syrup, notably in Estrie (the Eastern Townships). This is the area that sweeps wholesomely from Granby to New Hampshire, and it is here in the spring that the maple trees are tapped and the sugar sap that trickles out is caught. Slowly, the sap is boiled down until it produces a clear, flowing syrup that can be cooled, graded and bottled.
The process is thought to have been passed down by Native Americans but, if you want to see maple syrup production today, the Cleary factory is a good place to start. It's at 574 Notre Dame North, Robertsville, Quebec (001 800 461 8872 or: cleary@homepagers. com) and is open from 7am-3pm Monday-Friday, all year. A gift shop is attached to the factory where you can stock up on every variety of maple syrup you could wish for, or pick up a mail-order catalogue.
A 250ml bottle of syrup costs $4 (pounds 2.40) whereas, if you waited until you got back home, a 200ml bottle from Jerry's Home Store, 163-167 Fulham Road, London SW3 (0171-581 0909) would cost pounds 7.95. Stock up with 55 bottles in Canada and flog them to your friends to pay for the pounds 302 return flight on British Airways from London Heathrow to Montreal (from Quest Worldwide, 0181-546 6000, until 27 May). Then you can work off all those pancakes with some serious sea-kayaking on the Saint Lawrence River.