maple syrup on ice
Spring is in the air! The days grow a little longer, the sun is a little warmer, and the snow is starting to melt. Soon the trees will be in bud and the birds will be winging their way back north. Nights are still cold, though, and conditions are perfect for the maple sap to rise.
It's a seasonal ritual in Québec. As soon as the moon is right, or the wind from the southwest blows a certain way, the maple syrup producers head into the sugar bush and begin tapping their trees. The buckets fill with a sweetish, watery liquid that will be boiled down to make the delicately flavoured syrup everyone loves on pancakes.
The syrup starts as a watery sap that's collected drop by drop by little spouts inserted directly into the tree trunk. Originally, buckets were hung from the spouts; as they filled, they would be emptied into huge barrels carted through the forest on horse-drawn sleds. Today, most modern operations use an ingenious system of plastic piping that siphons the sap into an evaporator, where the water is boiled away. Absolutely nothing is added to the precious nectar. It takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of pure syrup, but the delicious golden liquid is well worth the trouble.
There are many maple syrup operations not far from Québec's major cities, and all welcome visitors at sugaring off time. In addition to featuring lots of hearty food, the "cabane à sucre" recreates the spirit of earlier times with traditional music, dancing and merrymaking.
Sugaring off time is the perfect occasion for a sleigh ride, a tromp through the woods or a stop at one of Québec's famous maple festivals.