would have thought that we would derive such pleasure from
tree sap? When winter days reach a mild 5°C but the nights
stay cold, those with a sweet tooth turn to maple syrup, maple
sugar and maple butter to warm their bellies in the last remaining
days of winter. As the world's fourth largest producer of
maple syrup (Quebec is number one), Ontarians have long known
about this ambrosial elixir, having learned of its delights
from North American natives when the first settlers arrived
from Europe. Native tribes had such a liking for maple syrup
that it was once used as a form of currency. The Anishnabeg
people of Minnesota and other tribes used maple syrup as a
basic seasoning for grains and breads, stews, teas, berries
Early settlers soon learned
the process of boiling sap and later improved the methods;
however, the process remains unchanged since those early days.
What has changed is the technology. The sap that runs from
maple trees across the south-east of Canada and the north-east
of the United States is a clear fluid, very liquid and not
very sweet. When condensed down to a 35th of its original
volume, the sap becomes a sweet nectar with an abundance of
In Eastern Ontario, lovers
of maple products have lots of choice when it comes to choosing
a maple delight. With over 500 producers belonging to the
Syrup Producers Association, each producing their unique
blend of maple syrup, sugar and butter, you'll never have
difficulty finding a maple product to suit your sweet tooth.
Whether you make your purchase from a country store, a supermarket
or directly from a road side producer, be sure to look for
the Ontario Maple Seal of Quality for a syrup that has been
made by conscientious producers using best practices.
The finest way to experience
maple products is to visit a sugar shack in March or April.
Many local producers open their doors to visitors eager to
taste freshly made syrup drizzled on snow. A day at a sugar
shack is both educational and filling. Some syrup operations
even promote delicious pancake breakfasts. Call one of the
producers near you for their hours of operation.
"Make your own sugar
and send not to the Indies for it. Feast not on the toil,
pain and misery of the wretched" Farmers
Almanac, 1803, on slavery in the West Indies.
"I am led to expect
that a material part of the general happiness which heaven
seems to have prepared for mankind will be derived from
the manufacure and general use of maple sugar."
notes from the Global Gourmet and Paula Giese on Traditional
Native Maple Sugar.
For delicious recipes using maple syrup, go to our recipe page.