Sugaring Off Part II and Rustic Maple Pie


This post is continued from Sugaring Off Part I

In an interview with the National Post, world-renowned Montreal chef Martin Picard calls maple syrup extraordinary, underestimated, and the most emblematic product you can find in Canada; I love how this guy ticks. There is so much more to this 100% natural liquid gold than most people think and I’m really enjoying this discovery of how it is traditionally harvested and prepared. From the clear, perfumed sap that drips from the tap on the tree trunk, to the seductive dark syrup that coats our pancakes, this is truly Eastern Canada’s most valuable resource.


Like Christmas Day for young ones, the goodies just keep coming on our sugaring off adventure. First the venison chili, then the maple cocktail, and now Uncle Marc (who had disappeared indoors for sometime) makes his way down the trail with a steaming kettle in one hand and a can of wooden paddles in the other. He sideskirts the bustling stove area and heads for a patch of clean snow in the woods instead. My foodie instincts propel me, and true to form, I am first on the scene.
He’s making maple taffy or ‘tire d’erable.


He has reduced the syrup over a steady heat until it has reached the soft ball stage and now pours it on the snow in long strips. The taffy hardens–but not too much–and then is rolled onto a paddle; this lollipop of pure delicacy is handed to the closest awaiting hand.

Hmm, funny how many of those eager hands are little ones.
Like mother, like son, it hasn’t taken Noah very long to discover this snow buffet. I watch with enjoyment as he cautiously takes a first taste and then observe in horror as he neatly devourers the rest of the tire on his stick in one massive sticky bite. As I brace myself for all twenty of his tiny, pearl-white teeth to rot out of his head and drop into the snow, I see him preparing to help himself to another stick and manage to stir myself out of my reverie enough to intervene. He doesn’t complain much as I lead him away from the tempting spread, as if he knows it’s too good to be true anyway.
I proceed to have four more sticks of taffy in a row and not to be a complete spoil-sport, I share some with him. Talk about a double standard!

My youngest child has now succumbed to the warm afternoon sun and is dozing in the jogger stroller. My heart is racing from the pure sugar fix (overload?) and I’m ready to see how the sap is collected. Let’s go!


The sun is beginning to slant behind the tall maples as I hop on the back of the ATV and a handful of us set out to collect the sap. Facing backwards as we bump along the ‘route’, I am looking at a large barrel we are towing on a sled that holds the sap. We stop at various ‘checkpoints’ along the trail while folks, armed with 5 gallon pails, fan out into the woods. Each and every tin bucket is lifted from the tree and the contents dumped into the 5 gallon pails, which in turn are emptied into the barrel on the sled.
From the back of the quad where he sits, Marc is clearly pleased to have the extra help, as he usually does the sap run solo twice a day. Harvest time is a busy time, no matter what type of farmer you are.


When we return to ‘camp’, I don’t stick around to see the sap transferred from the barrel to the stove top, because I’m badly in need of coffee and I’m off to hunt some down. As quickly as it came, my sugar rush has left, taking my energy stores with it. I’m getting old after all. I don’t have the stamina of these monkeys picture below; of course, who knows just how much pure maple sugar is running through their veins right now.
I’m anticipating a major meltdown from the one in the red jacket before the hour is up.


I’m pleased to see the homestead kitchen is a bustle of activity and there are many signs of a promising full-on feast to come. Baked beans (with maple of course) are bubbling away on the stove, six dozen eggs are stacked on the counter awaiting their destiny, and pork in its many attractive forms is warming, including about five pounds of maple-glazed bacon contributed by yours truly. Some things are essential, and bacon is one of them.
My sister looks up from her post behind the griddle where she’s turning out apple-cinnamon flapjacks with skill; these are not her first pancakes, people. I’m famished and I could smell these from outside. She doesn’t object as I snitch one; it helps to have contacts in the kitchen.

Whether lured by the smells coming from the kitchen or driven by the need for dry feet, a steady stream of people begin to trickle into the house. Soon muddy rubber boots and various other footwear begin piling up on the back porch like wild mushrooms multiplying on a rotten log. To my utter relief, my brother-in-law and resident coffee geek, Kevin, turns up and begins pumping out expertly prepared pots of French Press coffee. I take the second cup (he has dibs on the first), we stir in maple syrup and sigh with pleasure.
Then it is time to eat.


Photos are scarce from this point on due to the fact that I am just too busy tucking in to the home cooking and feeding the little ones. This shot of Danny’s plate–the first of many–is the only evidence of our sugar shack style meal.
There’s nothing like fresh air to work up an appetite and this is apparent as we devour the aforementioned baked beans and flapjacks plus scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, bison sausages, coffee cake, bagels and hash browns. Everything is topped with maple syrup; a tribute to our day in the sugar bush.

My hands wrapped around one last cup of coffee and my tummy full of pie, I watch the sun set over the valley that stretches out below the farmhouse. I hear Lynn behind me:

“See why I moved to the country?”

She gestures at the view, but it doesn’t require anyone to speak for it. It’s stunning and the display has not been lost on me.
This whole day had only been a reminder of that I already knew: ‘You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl’.


Thanks Marc & Lynn! See you next spring!

Rustic Maple Pecan Pie

I enjoyed my piece of pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of more maple syrup. Why not? Sugaring off comes but once a year.

Recipe by Auntie Lynn

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Beat eggs in a bowl. Stir flour into brown sugar and add to beaten eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into pie shell and bake for 40 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Sugaring Off Part I and a Canadian Cocktail


We can smell the maple syrup as soon as we step out of the car. I can see smoke rising up out of the trees and the sun warms my face. I leave my jacket in the car and Danny, Noah, Mateo and I duck inside the family home. Auntie Lynn looks up from the maple pecan pies she is taking out of the oven and greets us. She barely bats an eyelash as we unload our car (about half the entire contents of our home) and trek our belongings to the guest room.

“For the month of March this isn’t my home”, she says in a resigned matter, “It’s a community centre.”

We’ve all come for one thing: sugaring off. During these warm days and cool nights, the sap is running in Lynn and Marc’s 25 acre ‘sugar bush’. The maple trees are tapped, and the collecting of the precious sap has begun.

On the kitchen counter sits an industrial sized canning pot with at least two gallons of dark maple syrup in it. A ladle hangs on the side and a jar of spoons next to the pot invites tasters.

“Try some”, smiles Lynn, “I boiled it last night.”

Unprepared for just how good it is going to be, I dip into the pot and spoon out a generous tablespoon. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had before. Now, as a rule, we only use pure maple syrup in our house (there is never any Aunt Jemima hiding in my pantry) but even store-bought pure syrup doesn’t come close to this.

“What? What? How…?” I splutter.

I think Lynn gets this reaction often, for she didn’t seem surprised by it and explained that the difference is due to the fact that the sap was boiled in the traditional method over an open wood fire in the middle of the forest. I’ve camped enough in my life to get that; bake a potato at home and bake one in the ashes of a campfire and they are worlds apart. Such is the case here; underneath the sweet and true maple taste of this syrup is another level of flavor so complex it makes you shake your head in wonder. Not surprisingly, though, everything tastes better straight out of the ground–or in this case, the tree–than it does off of a shelf.

I surreptitiously tuck the spoon into my pocket (one wants to always be prepared, doesn’t one?) and we exit the house, strike out into the woods, past an ancient outhouse, following the slushy trail and the barking of dogs.

(click on any image to enlarge)

Young saplings are interspersed with strong tall maples on either side of the path and almost every maple has a tin bucket hanging from it. Through the trees I can see a hub of activity. A pile of old wooden pallets towers precariously next to a massive cast iron stove; they are the fuel for the fire that reduces the sap. A couple of quads are parked nearby and the very sight of them causes Noah’s footsteps to quicken. He is a boy for sure.


We enter the clearing and greet everyone; someone takes Mateo from my arms and another person offers me some chili. I’m actually not that hungry yet, but when I hear that it is Uncle Marc’s homemade venison-maple chili, I accept the offer. It’s incredibly flavourful, smoky & sweet–and yes, he harvested the deer himself. Next to a small campfire, I take a seat on a freshly cut section of log, and size up the stove. It’s a big mamma and there’s a raging fire inside, fueled by the wooden pallets.


On top of the stove is a massive metal box, bigger than most bathtubs, and it’s half full with maple sap. Steam rises from the top as the sap boils rapidly, reducing itself to the precious syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, and out here in the fresh spring air is where the magic happens.

Buzzed from the jolt of maple from the house, and warmed by the chili, I’m raring to go. Noah has disappeared with his grandpa and, childless for the moment, I jump at a chance to tap some trees. A group if us head into the woods, armed with a drill, buckets and taps.

(Yours truly tapping a maple. You can see the smoke rising through the woods behind us)

The ancestral process is surprisingly elementary. Choose the side of the trunk that faces the sun; drill a hole (at a slight upwards angle so the sap can flow down); place a tap firmly in the hole; hang a bucket on the hook below the tap; cover the bucket with a lid. Then you wait. On a warm day like today, the sap is running fast and a bucket can fill within hours.

I hear voices through the woods and recognize Noah’s among them. In our wandering we’ve happened upon a frozen swamp with a group of aunts and uncles on it, just enjoying the day. It’s a charming spot, the smooth ice spreading through the trees creating many little frozen islands. Christmas lights encircle the pond and I suddenly wish it was night and I had my skates. Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” comes to mind especially the line…’Between the woods and frozen lake’.


As I step onto the ice to approach the small group, I notice that most of the activity is centered around a small table set up in the middle of the pond. Curious. The table holds a bottle of vodka, a liter of cream, a bottle of fresh maple syrup and a stack of small paper cups. I’m beginning to understand why this is such a popular spot!

I’m not going to pass up this golden opportunity; after all, one doesn’t happen upon a minibar in the forest very often, and I accept a drink. It’s not just the beautiful natural setting that makes me rate this cocktail among my top ten, it is truly one to be savored; the sheer quality of the pure syrup leaves little to be desired as it plays a bold lead role in the drink.

There’s not a car to be heard or a house to be seen; truly, this is roughing it with side benefits.

To be continued….

If anyone knows the official name for this most excellent drink, please let me know!

Recipe for Canadian Maple Cocktail:

Have the following ingredients chilled:

1 oz pure Canadian maple syrup
1 oz coffee cream (10%)

1 oz vodka

Pour maple syrup into a glass. Top with cream, followed by the vodka. Stir with a small tree branch (because what else are you going to use in the forest?) and enjoy. Add ice if desired.

If any bartenders or mixologists out there can recommend a way to keep the vodka and cream separate, please let me know!

Click Here for Sugaring Off Part II!: Making Taffy, Apple Cinnamon Flapjacks, and a recipe for Auntie Lynn’s Rustic Maple Pie.