©iStockphoto.com/Thomas-Charles Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Thomas-Charles
Long, cold Canadian winters can lead to cabin fever -- frustrated kids and adults desperate for some outdoor fun. Shake off the winter blahs and take a family trip to visit a sugar bush. Learn about the history of maple syrup in Canada and take part in a traditional "sugaring off," and see how maple syrup is made. Then try some of our Test Kitchen's recipes in Tap into tradition and Get sweet on a Canadian tradition. It's a delightful way to spend the day that the whole family will enjoy.
Maple syrup history 101
Maple syrup isn't just delicious pancake topping, it has a noble place in Canadian history. No one is certain how long native Canadians have been harvesting maple sap, but records dating as far back as the 17th century describe the earliest sugar bushes in Québec and Eastern Ontario. Aboriginal peoples, and then European settlers, used simple but effective methods to harvest the sap. A diagonal or v-shaped cut was made in the maple tree and a reed was inserted to collect the running sap. It was then poured into large clay or bark containers and boiled using hot rocks until the liquid reduced. ‘Maple taffy' was made by pouring thick syrup onto fresh snow -- a technique still used today. Even in the 1600's, it wasn't just a sweet treat. Maple syrup and sugar provided essential energy and nutrients that helped early people survive long, cold winters when food was scarce.
Find a sugar bush
Depending on the weather, the maple syrup season usually runs from March or the end of April. Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have many Sugar Shacks that are well organized and offer activities that will engage young and old alike.
Best Maple Butter Tarts
Make your own delectable custardy tarts instead of buying them. We've subbed in the very Canadian ingredient maple syrup for the more common corn syrup. Plus, we've included variations on the classic, with chocolate and pecans instead of raisins.
Maple Buttermilk Grilled Chicken
Everyone will love this sweet and savoury chicken. Mix it up by using a variety of white and dark meat so that they all get their favourite pieces. Be sure to cut chicken breasts in half crosswise, through the bone, to make them more similar in size to the thighs and drumsticks. For a fun garnish, cut a lime in half to grill alongside the chicken for the last 10 minutes.
Cedar-Planked Salmon with Maple-Mustard Glaze
Grilling the salmon on water-soaked cedar planks infuses it with a delightfully smoky taste, plus the sauce gives it a golden glaze. If you can't do this outside, bake it on planks in a 425°F (220°C) oven for about 12 minutes.
Cherry and Ricotta Turnovers
Flaky turnovers with a tart cherry and rich ricotta filling are a welcome addition to any table. Look for butter puff pastry in the freezer section of your grocery store and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. For an extra layer of crunch, sprinkle 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or sliced almonds onto the turnovers before baking.
Maple Bourbon Barbecued Ribs
You'll have everyone asking for more of these sticky, finger-licking-good ribs.
Creamy Maple Mustard Basting Sauce
This mild sauce is not only excellent for basting, but it's also delicious to serve at the table for dressing up any grilled mains. It pairs well with pork, chicken or fish.
For more fun winter activities, check out our winter family travel guide.