We love sugar shacks. And it’s no surprise, the maple leaf is our national symbol after all! But it’s worth stopping to consider the maple syrup origin. Without the generous insight from First Nations, who knows what we’d be pouring on our pancakes.
It’s not only pancakes, for that matter. The sweet syrup lends itself well to French toast and crepes, plus countless maple desserts. These desserts include fudge, macarons, brownies, and ice cream. We’ve even seen maple bacon doughnuts and maple Nanaimo bars! It’s worth checking to see the maple syrup desserts available near you. You might be lucky enough to live near a patisserie who makes maple mille-feuille.
Sometimes we need a road trip to allow us to enjoy the full maple experience of sugar shacks. Typical dishes served at those wonderfully long banquet-style tables include baked beans with maple syrup, maple-cured ham, crispy fried pork rinds, and additionally omelettes in maple syrup. If you haven’t had your maple syrup fill yet you can further indulge in more syrup heavy desserts. These include pancakes, maple sugar pie, or dumplings in maple syrup.
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not able to gather socially. Well, do not let that deter you! Fortunately, Quebec maple sugar shacks offer a new service, ma cabane à la maison, that allows you to order sugar shack meals straight to your home. Lastly, if you are into the outdoors, any visit to a sugar shack is incomplete without a sample of the maple taffy on snow.
The process of syrup extraction requires the temperature to be above zero degrees. You can see why we wait until spring each year! Holes are drilled into each trunk before spouts are inserted. Buckets then hang underneath to catch the sap. This is boiled down to evaporate the water and ensure the sugar concentration at 66%. Further to this, modern tubing can connect to the various holes and lead straight to the sugar shack. In this case a vacuum pumps the sap to the one central location where the evaporator is.
The maple syrup origins show that indigenous First Nations communities were the pioneer producers. The purpose was trade and personal use during the winter. According to Ontarian novelist Gwen Tuinman, “Among the Ojibwe tribes of the Great Lakes area, matrilineal lines dictated ownership of Sugar Maple groves.” This meant that the job of collecting and boiling the sap was upon the women. Tuinman adds how each female head had her own sugar hut. A place where the evaporation process would occur at the end of each day. Receptacles that held and transported the valuable sap were constructed from birch bark, while hot stones were used to ensure a slow, rolling boil. Records show this practise occurred as early as 1555. Whatsmore, we know mokuks boxes were made from birch and elm bark and used to transport crystalized maple syrup used in trade.
Maple syrup harvesting continues in Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. To this day, thanks to the valuable information shared by such indigenous people, maple syrup continues to be a sweet source of revenue for Canadian exporters. Prized for its colour, flavour and clarity, Agriculture Canada has even created a flavour wheel similar to that used in the wine trade. It shows 91 unique flavours present in maple syrup. Divided into the following 13 families we have vanilla, burnt, milky, fruity, floral, spicy, foreign (deterioration or fermentation), foreign (environment), maple, confectionery, plant (herbaceous), plant (forest, humus or cereals), and plant (ligneous). Yes, it includes a maple category!
We thank our First Nations people for our ways of knowing, and direct you to this resource for extra info on maple syrup origins from the National Museum of Natural Sciences. Remember sugar shacks aren’t the only place to get your maple syrup fix… Be sure to visit your local bakeries to see what’s on offer!