Sinzibuckwud is the Algonquin word for maple syrup. It translates to “drawn from wood”
When you think of Canada, one of the things you always think about is maple syrup. Hard as it is for us Northeasterners to believe, there are a lot of people in the world who have never had real maple syrup. They’ve only had that Aunt Jemima “table” syrup (which is made from tables, not maple) or something similar, so they think maple syrup is funny. Which is why when people mock Canada they mention maple syrup in various contexts and laugh uproariously.
Those of us who grew up in the midst of maple-syrup-land know that maple syrup is actually a wondrous, magical gift from nature which deserves respect and reverence.
Nobody knows how long human beings have been consuming maple products, but long before Europeans got here, natives had been tapping sugar maple trees for generations and generations.
They’d poke holes in the trees and stick bits of bark or reeds into the holes and collect the sap into birch-bark buckets. If they didn’t have the wherewithal to boil the sap for days and days to reduce it to syrup, they left the buckets of sap out overnight to freeze and then just popped off the top layer of ice – which was mostly water – leaving the concentrated sugary sap underneath.
Today, Canada makes more than 80% of the world’s maple syrup, producing nearly 30 million litres of syrup a year. Most of this syrup (90%) comes from Quebec with the rest coming from Ontario and New Brunswick. (And a teensy bit from Nova Scotia)
In the US — Vermont, Main and New York State produce the other 20% of the world’s maple syrup.
Maple products are exported to 48 countries – mainly the US, Germany and Japan.
In this part of the world, a visit to the maple sugar bush is pretty much an annual early spring outing for most families. When days warm up, but nights are still freezing, the sap starts to flow – usually during four to six weeks sometime between February and April.
These days, while some trees are still tapped the old fashioned way, many are also vacuum-tapped which can yield twice as much sap as the old gravity way. It takes 10 gallons(40 litres) of sap to make 1 quart (1 litre) of syrup.
It takes approximately 40 liters (10 gal) of sap to boil down 1 litre (1 quart) of syrup. A mature Sugar Maple tree produces about 40 litres of sap during the 4- to 6-week sugaring season under gravity, but can produce 80 or more litres under vacuum.
For the last 30 years or so, maple syrup producers have been using a reverse osmosis system to first remove most of the water from the sap (apparantly more efficient than leaving buckets of sap out overnight to freeze). Then they boil it for a while and end up with syrup. The longer it boils, the darker the grade of syrup.
If it’s boiled down even further you get:
- First a thicker, darker syrup to make maple taffy by pouring the liquid onto some fresh snow and sticking a stick into it. Yum!
- Second: Maple cream or maple butter (neither of which, contrary to what some people believe, contain any dairy products)
- Third: keep boiling and you’ll end up with maple sugar – more yumminess
Maple syrup and other maple products have a number of health benefits. It’s a great sweenter yet is very low in fructose compared to other sweetners like corn syrup or agave syrup. Maple syrup is much lower in calories and carbohydrates than sugar or honey. And, it’s an excellent source of manganese (an essential cofactor in energy production and antioxidant defenses) and zinc (good for all sorts of stuff, including immune system support). For what it’s worth, maple syrup also has more calcium than milk, by volume, and more potassium than bananas, by weight.
Maple syrup is a staple in our house. Whenever we can, we buy it in industrial-sized tins.
We use it not only for pancakes, waffles, yoghurt, grapefruit, baked apples, sweet potatoes and oatmeal, but for baking (on the rare occasions when that happens) and cooking. Tofu fried with a little maple syrup and tamari is the best thing since I don’t know what.
And then there’s maple-walnut ice cream. Enough said, I think.
And remember when Obama (and a million body guards) came to Ottawa and he bought a bunch of those maple cookies from the market?
I used to love those things.
And here’s a little tip. If for some bizarre reason you don’t consume your maple syrup right away and it stands around in your fridge for a long time and mold starts growing on the surface, don’t throw it away. You can skim the mold off. Reheat the syrup to the boiling point and skim whatever ends up on the surface again. Clean out the syrup container really well and pour the hot restored syrup back in. It will be good as new.
Is there anyone out there who has not ever had real maple syrup?
What’s your favourite thing to do with maple syrup?
 Canadian Syrup grades are (from lightest to darkest): Extra Light, Light, Medium, Amber and Canada #2 Amber. I, personally, like the really dark stuff the best.