The kitchen is the great equalizer. Food doesn’t care about the colour of your skin…
Spring. Time to watch the sap run and consume the sticky stuff that’s become synonymous with all things Canadian. Knock it off the bucket list, a truly Canadian maple syrup experience – welcome to Sugarbush.
100% sustainable, 100% edible; maple is as much a part of the fabric of Canadian food culture as one ingredient can get, flavoring everything from breakfast to gourmet doughnuts. Maple candy, maple sugar, maple cotton candy, maple butter, maple cookies, maple smoked bacon, maple pie, maple ice cream, maple toffee, even maple flavoured coffee. You name it, we’ve mapled it. We are a syrup nation. We love it so much we put that leaf on our flag, dammit. What could be more Canadian than a morning amoung the maples, watching the steam rise from the sugar shack and the slow drip of the sap we adore.
I feel strangely more complete as a citizen on the great White North, as if reading every word of every single Lucy Maud Montgomery novel was not enough to prove my metal. I am now forever imprinted by the scent, the steam and taste of fresh maple.
A Cold Canadian Spring
It’s been a slow, cold spring with temperatures barely rising above zero in the daylight hours, late snow and freezing cold at night. Maples loves a warm spring day countered by cold spring nights. That’s what gets the sap flowing to fill the buckets, tubes and tanks before the long, slow boil. Why the boil? Because maple sap is essentially a clear a sweet water, it only becomes maple syrup after a period of reduction and a filtering process; resulting in the sticky stuff we know and love.
- 1 maple tree = 40 liters of maple sap
- 40 liters of maple sap = 1 liter of maple syrup
- Maple trees need three things to produce maple syrup; temperature variance, moisture and soil minerality.
- There are three categories and five different grades of maple syrup, the lightest of which is only produced in Quebec.
Maple making extends south of the boarder into several northern states, but Canada still produces 85% of the world’s supply of maple syrup, 90% of which is harvested in the province of Quebec, averaging more than 7,900,000 gallons annually. (Source: AAFC -Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
That’s a lot of pancakes people!
At Proulx Maple & Berry Farm, Cumberland Ontario just outside Ottawa, they have 1,000 trees on tap, on a good year that’s 1,000 liters of liquid gold. A third generation family farm and a point of Proulx pride, the Maple Festival runs through April 19th 2015. One more weekend to wave the flag and shake the Sugarbush.
‘Le Buffet a Suc’
When I patriotically announced to friends our weekend intentions, including the traditional breakfast, I got a grimace and a whispered warning. “Oh,” they said shaking their heads “don’t expect much of the food. It’s usually rubbery eggs and lukewarm bacon.” (Forwarded is forearmed I always say. Setting the bar low allows for a more enjoyable experience.) But, hold the presses, food was actually hot. The pancakes were plentiful and there were lots of options, from beans to crispy pork and vats of maple syrup (both hot and cold), to smother it in at the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Big maple fun. Ham for me, the kid sucked back pancakes and became impossibly sticky while the hubs was able to cleverly avoid maple all together (forgive him, he’s not from here).
Traditions & Pricey Brunch
Could the buffet be better? Sure. I’d love to show them how to do a soft, creamy egg that would hold in a chaffing dish and not turn grey, or strongly suggest a better coffee. But hey, I didn’t hear anyone complaining (except about the coffee). If anything they were having ball. Laughing and chatting, with kids so jacked on sugar they scaled hay bales and sprinted through cold mud puddles, breaking the ice as they went.
My one criticism of our morning of maple would be the price tag: $22/adult and $10 for a child under 6 for the buffet rang up a bill in excess of $60 (with tax) for our threesome. Add on the $5/person entry fee that gives you access to the wagon rides, the hay stack and the barn and it’s the most expensive brunch we’ve ever consumed that didn’t involve booze. (As a rule, when we brunch it does involve booze.) That said, we agreed we’d do it again in a heartbeat. The Proulx staff were so genuine and kind, taking extra care to involve the kids and share their knowledge. They were… oh what’s the word I’m looking for here… nice. Yes, that’s it, nice.
We like nice, it’s so very — Canadian.
Sitting at long tables in the steamy kitchen shack, chatting with other guests huddled over steaming (bitter) coffee, stamping our feet to warm our toes before returning to the cold, the taffy tent and the rolling sweet steam of the sugar shack. After a long winter it felt good to be outdoors slogging through the mud and getting hip to our maple history.
I resisted the urge to sing Oh Canada, at the top of my lungs as we were pulled through the woods behind a team of mastic Clydesdales. Perhaps it was a good thing there was no booze at brunch.