I was born in La Belle Province (in the city of Montreal to be exact). I'm a Québec girl through and through. I speak French, I eat poutine, and I sometimes wear all black. Mais non, I don't smoke les cigarettes but I love sauvagine (an unbelievably tasty regional cheese) and you'll never convince me that New York has better bagels or that Toronto has more culture. Baguette is my bread of choice and maple syrup is my blood type.
Every year in early Spring it's "sugaring off" season in Québec (where 85 percent of the world's most delicious condiment is born). The rest comes from other parts of Canada and beautiful Vermont. Sap is the lifeblood of trees that starts to flow as winter ends and days get longer and warmer. Sugaring off is what happens when sap is boiled for days until a rich syrup is rendered. If you've ever had the chance to breathe in this heavenly process, it's one you'll never forget.
Harvested from the noble maple tree, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and the process requires long term devotion. Trees aren't ready to be tapped until they're about 40 years old. They will continue to produce sap suitable for making syrup until they are 100 years old. Before sap becomes syrup, it's clear and watery. It isn't until the water is boiled out that it gains its golden color. This process produces so much steam that it must be done in an outdoor sugar shack (or cabane à sucre) or your whole house will become sticky and the wallpaper will literally peel off.
Maple syrup is so important to Québec-ers and to its economy that a massive backup supply is kept under lock and key by the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers. Well, at least it's under lock and key now. The great Canadian maple syrup heist of 2012 saw 18 million dollars worth of our liquid gold stolen from the world's reserve supply.
An Ocean's 11 type team of well organized thieves recognized that the price of maple syrup is 13 times that of crude oil and a black market was born. The product was quietly and systematically removed from a warehouse with no security and no alarms and it's estimated that the syrup was on the lam for a whole year before the powers that be even noticed something was up. It was only discovered to be missing after a routine inventory check. 26 people have since been arrested and some have been charged with a crime you didn't know existed: Possession of Stolen Syrup with Intent to Sell. To date, only 25% of the stolen syrup has been recovered. Zut alors!
Clearly, maple syrup is powerful stuff. In fact, there is nothing else that tastes quite like it. Artificial imitations abound and are much cheaper than the real deal. They are made with high fructose corn syrup and are no match for true maple syrup which is impossible to replicate. So, please don't try to tempt me with any, for I would sooner go hungry.
Maple syrup is not just something to put on your pancakes, french toast, waffles or crèpes. Maple syrup is a rite of Spring and trips to the sugar shack an annual family tradition that hold dear memories for me and many others in this neck of the woods. Maple syrup is part of our culture. It's part of our identity.
And since so much of our cultural identities revolve around food, I present to you my favorite maple syrup recipe. These muffins au sirop d'érable are adapted from my grandmother's original recipe. They're quick and easy and unbelievably yummy. With a couple of simple swaps they are even vegan and, with the glaze, only 326 calories. Worth it.
The World's Best Maple Syrup Muffins
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 1/4 cup flour (can use half whole wheat flour)
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or the milk of your choice)
• 1/2 cup maple syrup (Amber or Dark is best for baking)
• Glaze (Use pure maple butter instead and keep it vegan)
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1/2 cup icing sugar
• 1 tbsp maple syrup
• Line a muffin tin with 8 paper cups and preheat the oven to 350.
• Combine vegetable oil, sugar and salt.
• In a separate bowl mix flour and baking powder then add oats. Add mixture to the liquids.
• In a big measuring cup mix milk and syrup together then pour over dry ingredients to moisten.
• Bake 25-30 minutes.
• Spread liberally with glaze while muffins are still warm. Get ready to eat three is a row.
And finally, let's toast the season with a maple cocktail. Oh, you didn't think maple syrup was just for breakfast, did you? It's also for Happy Hour. Impress your friends with this grown up sip that's perfect for Spring nights. If you're not a whiskey drinker this bevy will ease you into it.
• 2 ounces Canadian Club whiskey
• 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
• 1 tablespoon ounce of maple syrup
• 2 dashes angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake like hell and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with booze soaked cherries. Happy Spring!