Magnificence and Maple Syrup

“Maple Syrup-This beautiful addition to the table is a portion of the syrup, taken out when it begins to thicken to the consistency of virgin honey…if for use in your own family, boil it rather longer, and cork it tight, setting it by a cool cellar to keep from fermentation. It is used as sauce for pancakes, puddings and to eat with bread…”

“The boiling place is made by fixing two large stout forked posts into the ground, over which a pole is laid, stout  to enough   to support the kettles; ironwood is good for this purpose; on this kettles are hung at a certain height above the fire. A hoop, with a piece of clean, coarse serge or flannel sewed over it, serves for a strainer; the edge of the pots should be rubbed with clean lard to prevent the sap from boiling over…If possible have more than one kettle for boiling down; a constant change from the pots facilitates the work…Attention and care is now all that is required. The one who attends to the boiling should never leave his business; others can gather sap and collect wood for fires. When there is a good run, the boiling down is often carried on far into the night…The best run of sap occurs when a frosty night is followed by a warm sunny day. if cold weather set in after the trees have been tapped, it is sometimes necessary to tap them a second time.”

The Canadian Emigrant Housekeepers Guide, by Mrs C. P. Traill,  pub. 1851.

As a Canadian, I see the running of the sap as culturally significant as the running of the bulls, maybe even more so, as it marks the first signs of spring, and marks the end of another long, dark, and miserable winter. as Mrs trail wrote in 1851, it was at one time, produced outside or in shacks, boiled in cauldrons over big, hot fires. My grandmother remembered that during the season, her father never left the sugar shack; she and her sisters took turns bringing him meals, while her brothers manged to keep the fires supplied with wood. As a family, they used the syrup that they produced, but they sold most of it, the extra income helped them survive the depression.

Sap was first collected and boiled by Indigenous people of North America. This process was then adopted and refined by early settlers who tended to view maple sugar (syrup that was boiled longer, and left to cool until crystallized) and maple syrup as an everyday staple. Maple sugar was often used as a substitute for refined sugar when it wasn’t available. Both maple sugar and maple syrup were common ingredients and many recipes call for great quantities of both, as they were cheap, especially if you had your own sugar bush.

Maple syrup is our slow food, and although it is no longer collected in metal buckets and boiled over roaring fires, it still takes forty litres of sap to produce four litres of syrup;  and sadly it has become expensive as the Sugar Maple tree as a species is dying off, so there is less of it produced. Therefore, in this the brief season that we call spring, really just a week or two, before our hot dry summer,  we need to celebrate and enjoy the magnificence that is maple syrup. It is almost miraculous, that something so delicious comes from a tree in the woods. As a kid, one of my favorite things to eat as an after school snack was bread and butter dipped in maple syrup. It still is, delicious bread, real butter and pure maple syrup make an easy and  amazing early Sunday morning breakfast eaten leisurely, sitting in a sunny spot, while drinking a cup of something hot, watching the snow slowly melt outside, knowing that spring will soon be here and that thank goodness, winter is over.

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