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How Sweet It Is! Ontario Maple Syrup

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By Cynthia Peters

Well it's that time of year when the sap has started running and soon we will be enjoying our first harvest of the year: maple syrup.

There are few areas in the world suited to making maple syrup – luckily Ontario is one of them. The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association president, Dave Matthews was recently quoted in the Community Press, saying that the prices for syrup are strong, especially bulk syrup, probably twice what they were two years ago. Countries such as Japan, USA and Germany are some of the world's largest consumers of bulk syrup. In Ontario, we can't produce enough to meet the demand and we have to import a portion from Quebec and Vermont. Some of us are fortunate to have a number of small producers nearby we can but direct from or through specialty stores.  Quite a few of the regions hold annual Maple Syrup Festivals to celebrate the occasion. From pancake breakfasts to demonstrations at the sugar shacks, it's a wonderful time to experience first hand a tradition that goes back to our native ancestors.

My two top festivals are Maple In The County, in Prince Edward County, March 28-29  and The Elmira Maple Festival, Northwest of Toronto. (This site has a full list.)

Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with the owners of Sweet Water Cabin & Hubbs Sugarbush. They are producers and retailers of maple syrup products in Prince Edward County. Proprietors, Ron and Janice Hubbs had their wood stove stoked, and tea ready when I arrived at their heritage 1830's log cabin. Ron is an avid collector of maple production tools. As an antique lover, I was delighted to learn about the history of these instruments and their usage. Maple syrup was the main sweetener in the last few centuries, with people consuming 120 pounds a year in the 1700 to 1800's. White sugar was looked down upon, costly and associated with slavery. Maple Syrup also known as “Indian Sugar” was the preferred choice. Women were the main producers of the syrup until the late 1800's when men took over at a time when the evaporation process was improved with machinery and the invention of tin was born.

Sugar Devil – to grind blocks of maple sugar.

Collection of Sugar Nippers to make maple sugar cubes.

Antique Sap bucket with a collection of maple products.

There are so many products beyond the traditional syrup, from stirred sugar (which can be in nugget or fine grind) to maple candy, butter and tea. Many Ontario condiment producers are getting on board too, such as Everything Maple out of Orillia to White Meadows Farms' Red Pepper Maple Jelly.

Maple Syrup on its own is also a great white sugar substitute in sauces, marinades and baking. It's a healthy alternative that adds a particular richness to dishes, especially the dark amber grade. The general rule of thumb is to substitute ¾ cup of maple syrup for 1 cup of white sugar. Also reduce the liquid in the recipe by about 3 tablespoons and decrease temperature by 25%. Besides its nutritional value, maple syrup also is a great example of sustainable food. Well cared for trees can yield sap for more than 100 years. Once ever four years, Maple trees reseed themselves. Actually, this year is a reseeding year, as Bob Hubbs pointed out, it's always in the spring after the American election. It also takes anywhere form 25 to 40 years before a maple is ready for taping – it just depends on its growing environment.

Grading of maple syrup goes from Extra-light to Amber (for baking) with Medium being the most popular. Sugar levels are the same for all grades. I also learned that you could freeze maple syrup in glass, tin or plastic for seven to nine years. So buying larger sizes is a great cost-effective alternative.
So enjoy more maple syrup in your everyday cooking. It's packed full of vitamins, minerals and even some amino acids. And its fat free!  Here's a couple of recipes from my cookbook collection to get you started.

Canadian Maple Syrup Pie

1 tbsp. gelatin   2 eggs separated
2 tbsp. cold water  1 ½ cups whipping cream
½ cup milk   1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup maple syrup  1 baked pie shell
¼ tsp. salt

Soften gelatin in cold water. Heat milk, maple syrup and salt in top of a double boiler. When warm, slowly add well-beaten egg yolks. Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool mixture.
Whip cream and flavor with vanilla. Place half of the whipped cream to one side. Whip egg whites and add to cooled custard. Add one half of whipping cream.
Pour mixture into baked pie shell and top with whipped cream that was set aside. Store in refrigerator until very cold.

From Helen Gougeon's Good Food, Helen Gougeon (former columnist in WEEKEND magazine), The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, 1958, p.102.

Buttermilk Maple Cornbread with Flax

2 cups cornmeal
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup ground flaxseed
2 eggs
2/3 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup crisp cooked bacon pieces

Oil a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Place in a preheated 400 degree oven. Meanwhile, sift together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the flax. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, canola oil and buttermilk. Combine with the dry ingredients, stirring just until no dry spots remain. Pour into the preheated skillet and sprinkle with bacon pieces.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until browned. Cut into wedges to serve

From Anita Stewart's Canada, Anita Stewart, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 2008. p. 43


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