maple tapping

Here in Canada we produce nearly 80% of the world’s maple syrup, so it’s the sweetest way for my family and me to eat local.

In case you didn’t know, maple syrup is made from sap of the maple tree. Around this time every year, my family and I go maple tapping – we know the sap is running when the sunlight coaxes the thermometer above zero degrees during the day, but at night the mercury still slumps back below freezing. These temperature swings cause the sap to travel up the trunk of the sugar maple, bringing life to the limbs. Along its journey, we respectfully take a portion to boil down and bring to our table.

Maple tapping

A day in the Canadian sugar bush

Our backyard boasts a few trees suitable for tapping, and come March and April we’re making just about everything with maple syrup. We only get a few quarts off our homestead, but our extended family farms a 40-acre sugar bush and that’s where we’re headed today.

Maple tapping

It’s a perfect day, with brilliant blue skies and enough sunshine to leave your toque (that’s a knitted cap) and mittens at home. The air smells like wood smoke because my husband’s Uncle, Marc, is the only person I know who boils his sap over a fire in the middle of the forest. It’s as old-school and as marvelous as you can imagine.

Maple tapping

Collecting sap is the first order of business. This year the snow is high because of an unusually cold spring. Trekking from the packed trail into the woods to reach each bucket is a heck of a lot more physically demanding than it sounds. But we’re here on a mission.

Maple tapping

A quad pulls a sled fitted with a large barrel, and that is what we fill with sap and haul to the boiler. The sap going in is clear, clean and ice cold. The children take frequent drinks and no one discourages them – fresh maple water is high in antioxidants and quite good for you. I like mine boiled with a teabag dunked in and a splash of hot milk. Mmm, maple chai.

Maple tapping

A pile of old wooden pallets towers precariously next to a massive cast-iron stove – they are the fuel for the fire that will reduce the sap. 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.

Maple tapping

To keep our energy levels up, and because the children have been pestering us nonstop, Uncle Marc serves our favourite dessert: maple taffy or “tire d’erable”. Pure maple syrup is reduced until it has reached the “soft ball” stage (115 °C /238 °F) and poured onto packed snow in long strips.

Maple tapping

The taffy hardens – but not too much – and then is rolled onto a paddle; this lollipop of pure delicacy is handed to the closest open hand. As far as my children are concerned, there is nothing better.

Maple tapping

Out here in the fresh air, the guys have cooked a deep-fried turkey. It awaits carving, on a table laden with maple baked beans, maple ham, venison chilli and maple sausage patties.

Maple tappingMaple tapping

I’ve prepared a kale salad with maple-toasted pecans, maple-roasted sweet potato, and maple-glazed bacon – we need a few greens to balance out the rich food.

Maple tapping

As the sun begins to slant through the trees, we gather with friends and family, some 30 or so strong, to feast. There is wedding news to celebrate, good health to toast, and new babies to pass around. Not to mention a fantastic dinner to commemorate the occasion.

Maple tapping

Desserts prominently feature maple too: maple butter tarts, scones and my mother-in-law’s famous maple pie. One of each, please.

Maple tapping

A day in the Canadian sugar bush is the sweetest start to spring and it’s ours for the taking. Until next year!

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque

About the author

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque is a Montreal urban homesteader, former chef, and mother of three. After ten years of restaurant life, she left professional kitchens to start a family and foray into recipe development and food writing. Now, Aimée is the editor of food blog Simple Bites, named “Best Kids’ Cooking Blog” by Saveur Magazine in 2013, where she chronicles her kitchen adventures with recipes, cooking tips, photos and stories. She is the author of the upcoming cookbook Brown Eggs and Jam Jars (Spring 2015, Penguin). For more whole foods inspiration and everyday delicious chit-chat, find Aimée’s social media profile on Vizify.

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  • Jenny Lewis Flake

    Such a lovely post Aimee! I want to play in the snow with you guys!

  • Kevin @ Closet Cooking

    Love maple and heading out for fresh from the tap is great fun!

  • Heather Christo

    This is so cool, and I just love that the children get involved. that plate of food is absolutely beautiful.

  • marlafamilyfreshcooking

    Oh how I love the energy in this post. Some day I hope to go maple tapping too!!

  • Allison Ruth

    This looks like the best kind of family food adventure I can imagine. I want so badly to do this at least once in my lifetime!

  • http://www.backtothebooknutrition.com/blog/ Back To The Book Nutrition

    My family would SO pay to come be a fly on the wall for this beautiful tradition (A maple popsicle-licking fly on the wall)! For now, I’m trying really hard to stare at that maple pie long enough to taste it. ;)