My most vivid memory of maple syrup is from when I was in grade school. Growing up in a household that proudly boasted a bedraggled original printing of the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook allowed me to, at a very early age, discern the versatility of maple syrup – and the pleasure of it as well. Growing up in the same house as my mother only served to profoundly reinforce this particular philosophy.
I remember going out to the sugar bush with my class for the first time in grade 2; all bundled up in our warmest clothes in the earliest days of March. With snowsuits, long underwear, scarves, hats, mittens and boots, we huddled in the yellow school bus for warmth all the way to Oshawa. All day we ran around inside and outside, being taught the wonders of tapping maple trees, making beeswax candles and all sorts of general winter wonderland “stuff”. We went for horse-drawn wagon rides and made snow angels. It was a bright sunny day with a crisp chill that made everyone’s noses turn bright pink and our eyelashes crisp up with frost from our breath. I loved every minute of it.
I think my favourite part was the tapping of the trees. Well, if I’m being completely honest, my favourite part would have to be what came out of those trees, rather than the actual work of putting the taps in. We would run around – like miniature maniacs – with the people who worked in the bush and help them take down the pails that were full of sap. The sap would then be boiled down to syrup in front of our amazed eyes.
I vividly remember running behind the guy with the pot of syrup, to where he had a huge tray of fresh, clean packed snow. He poured a long narrow line of syrup on the snow, where it hardened and cooled instantly. “Take a piece…”, he said. I can still remember that taste. It was fresh like the snow — and cold with the ice crystals hanging off the bottom. And it was sweet like syrup but not like the stuff you buy in the grocery, more of a mellow, organic sweetness than a cloying sweetness. After that we would help out in the huge, warm, homey kitchen, making cornmeal buttermilk pancakes which would be topped with this gorgeous liquid gold we had helped to “create”.
When a friend returned from a recent sojourn to Trois-Rivieres in Quebec with a package for me I was delighted to find a small jar of Maple Butter enclosed. While it isn’t syrup, it is still delicious and I thank her for bringing those memories of trips into the sugar bush and tapping maple trees to mind with her thoughtful and – oh-so-very-sweet – gift.