Our Trip to the Sugar Bush

Our Trip to the Sugar Bush

Esme and I just finished one of my childhood favourite’s Little House on the Prairie. I’m so excited that she’s old enough for us to dive into chapter books. I have such vivid memories of the whole Little House series – hard Minnesota winters, calico bonnets, the strict rules children lived by then. I think books you read as a child stick with you like no others. And judging by Esme’s new found interest in pioneers – “When do they get their car?” – I think it will be the same for her. I could have sworn that they made candy by pouring maple syrup in the snow but it must be in another one. Little House in the Big Woods? The Long Winter? Anyone remember?

Images of pioneer life were still with me last weekend when we drove up to The Shaw farm, where the family has been making maple syrup for over a hundred years. But rather than the tin buckets hanging from trees that I was expecting, the 6,000 maple trees on the Shaw farm are connected by brightly coloured tubing – it looked more like an art installation than an ancient process. The tubes all feed back to the main house where the sap is boiled into syrup. Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup?  Tom Shaw explained to me that the weather we’ve been so irritated with this spring – warm then cold, warm then cold – is exactly what makes the sap flows. You can plan your own trip until the end of April depending on the weather.

I’ve made two recipes so far with the syrup we bought that day if you want to skip ahead: Maple Scones and Maple Baked Beans. Or you can come on our trip through the sugar bush….

photos: Maya Visnyei

The day we went up was clear, bright and not too cold. A perfect day for a sleigh ride through the sugar bush.

Okay, so they have a couple of buckets for nostalgic effect. And it does allow you to see how fast the sap runs when the conditions are just right. Imagine having to run 6,000 buckets worth of sap back to the main house!

There was a wait at the pancake house when we got back from our ride. But Julian and Esme liked watching one of Tom’s sons pouring syrup into bottles with what looked like a gas pump. We were surprised by how hot it is when it goes in the bottles. I bought two big bottles of syrup in their little store and started thinking about what I could make with it. Then we sat down to breakfast. They make huge pancakes here so Julian and I shared. Ben got a side of baked beans which gave me an idea. So far I’ve made two recipes – baked beans and maple scones – using the syrup from Shaw’s, plus we’ve just had it the way God intended: on pancakes. At the end of our meal Esme announced that we’d be coming back to Shaw’s every weekend.

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6 Comments

  1. Liza Herz
    April 04, 11:44 Reply

    That looks like the most fun. (All wintery outdoor days should end with pancakes, shouldn’t they?)

    I know this sounds like a bossy reading assignment, but you have to get “The Little House Cookbook” by Barbara M. Walker, (from 1995 and still in print.)

    The author researched over 100 pioneer recipes from the series (like the ice cream from Farmer Boy and the dried apple & raisin pie from Long Winter) after reading the Little House books with her daughter, so it’s a nice mix of history and Things You Can Actually Make.

    But most importantly, it contains instructions to make the Maple Syrup on Snow candy.

  2. Ceri Marsh
    April 04, 11:52 Reply

    Hey Liza,
    Not bossy at all! I’m going to look for that book right away – it sounds amazing!! It’s funny how many people have nostalgia for the Little House books. I think it was the NYTimes who did a story recently on how she’s become an academic subject at some universities!

  3. Liza Herz
    April 04, 16:56 Reply

    They’re such great books. And they hold up even if you go back to them years or (cough) decades later.

    Do you mean that New Yorker piece from about a year and a half ago? Or was there another one? More reading to do. Hooray.

    I hope you find the cookbook without too much trouble. Ooh – sour dough biscuits, pies, home-churned butter…

  4. Erin
    April 12, 17:07 Reply

    I second the Little House Cookbook. So much fun. And to answer your question, I believe the maple syrup candy comes from the Little House in the Big Woods.

    P.S. A tip on making your own candy… if it’s summer and there’s no snow in sight, just stick a cookie sheet in the freezer for a bit, and it will have the same effect!

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