Ultimately of course the sugar shack maple syrup making experience would be pointless if it wasn’t about food. Well, food and family. You don’t prepare 50 000 calories worth of dishes for yourself, at least I hope not.
Logging is a traditional occupation for the winter months if you’re a farmer, it’s also bloody hard work. It keeps you in shape provided you don’t loose any fingers, you should see the tough as nails 80 year olds around here. Even today it’s hard work and we have hydraulic splitters, gas powered chainsaws, plus quads and tractors to lug the wood around. I really have a hard time imagining the amount of sheer strength and hours it took a mere 70 years ago to turn trees into firewood. Lumberjacks were the original cross-fitters, but probably less douchey. I mean I’m sure they could talk about other stuff. Cheap shot, I know.
The caloric needs must have been extreme. My grandfather thought nothing of eating congealed bacon fat spread on a piece of bread. He was not a lumberjack per se but he just worked like a madman to feed his family (tip of the hat to you gramps). Lumberjack food answered that need.
Imagine this, it’s the tail end of winter, you live in a time without or with limited refrigeration other than the cold “summer kitchen” in the back of the house, and in any case you have not seen fresh produce in months. In terms of veggies you’ve been eating whatever you canned or pickled, and you’ve been keeping root vegetables and apples in a cellar. By now the apples are looking a little bit careworn but they’re still delicious in pies. There’s probably a well smoked ham or two hanging from a rafter somewhere, assuming you were somewhat prosperous. Still, you have been eating the same things for a while and your spice choices are limited, salt and maybe pepper? So when the syrup started to flow I’m guessing it was natural to supplement your calories with a new source of sugar and shake up your taste buds a little.
Though this is today’s version of a sugar shack lumberjack meal, hot-dog wieners aside, it must be very close to what they would have traditionally eaten.
You start with pea soup.
Makes sense, a hot bowl of soup filled with protein from dried peas, you could easily live on that alone. A few chunks of smoked ham to give it some extra taste. As far as I know the only part of the meal without maple syrup in it or on it.
Then you get on with the serious stuff.
Maple syrup cooked ham.
I have to say it was particularity delicious this year. With a big side of maple syrup baked beans you have all the protein and fibers you need. Ever. In case you think this is perhaps a little too healthy let’s throw in some more protein, a small omelette, for twenty people.
You are meant to drizzle syrup over the omelette, of course. What say you? You could use more protein still? Well, there’s some hot-dogs boiled in syrup if you really want.
I’m not saying it’s haute cuisine but dammmmn it’s tasty. Children will fight over the last sausage. Sometimes adults too. You also get breakfast (typically this is an early lunch meal) potatoes to provide a starchy base to the whole thing. Not so much in terms of green veggies heh? Coleslaw is usual, but frequently we forget to serve it. No one complains.
So your energetic needs are met. Hunger is satiated, time for a little something to really taste the syrup. Let’s see what kinds of pastries we can come up with. I forgot to take pictures of the larger desserts, pies of different sorts. Sorry.
I think someone could broker a peace deal in the Middle East if they had enough of those maple syrup cookies. Also the chewy squares should probably be on some controlled substance list. By this point your body is letting you know that it’s happy, but that it’s time to give it a rest, slow down a little. Perhaps it’s the right moment for a short nap, a game of cards or a walk in the woods.
Yet, after a while, when the distended bellies are a little more comfortable, when a brisk walk in the crisp cold air has worked its charms, you can feel a slight restlessness in the troops, a murmur of sorts. It’s not over yet, it’s time for the main event. Short of doing maple syrup shots, it’s the purest and most traditional way of eating that liquid goodness: directly off the snow. I’m not kidding when I say this is the main event, this is so important and cherished, that in years when it disappears early, we keep some snow in the freezer in order to be able to do this. It’s called tire sur la neige, or simply tire, which means pull. I’m not sure if that refers to the liquid taffy like texture of the further boiled down syrup or to the fact that you pull it off the snow. There’s a Ph.D. in there somewhere. Also I’ve always seen it prepared outside, but maybe that’s just my family.
Technically it’s not a complicated process, you boil down syrup until it has a liquid gum like texture and you ladle it over snow to rapidly chill it, at which point people can pull it off the snow using (usually) Popsicle sticks and it forms a mass of supple sweet goodness, with snow crystals stuck on the outside adding to the experience. It’s hard to have just one.
Of course you need to have the eye and expert training to do this right, not boiled enough? The hot liquid will go too deep into the snow and be lost. Boiled too much? You will end up with brittle maple rocks with razor sharp edges and the old uncles will make fun of your manhood. You need to get it just right because everyone has an opinion and is suddenly a food critic.
Start by boiling down some maple syrup.
Top tip, you want to grease the edges of your pot, it helps to keep the syrup from boiling over when you’re distracted by people questioning your skills.
You still need to keep an eye on it while it boils though. You will need someone to go and get beers for you, a father in law is great for that.
Let’s check the viscosity with our vintage ladle.
Nope, not there yet.
Let’s boil it some more. Yeah that looks about right.
Time to ladle it out unto the snow and let the kids have a go at it. Let the stickiness begin.
If you get the chance to try this, whatever calorie restrictive low carbs no sugar or tree product diet you are on do yourself a favour, give yourself a treat and try this. It’s like spring sunshine in your mouth.
If you get cold just pop into the sugar shack for some warmth or some réduit. Spend some time with your folks among the maple mist. Good times.
Good times indeed.
As the day winds down odds are good you’re not thinking about supper too much. Sure you’ll grab a nibble here and there, go for a last walk and head indoors. What’s that on the table? Oreilles de christ (sometimes spelled crisse to avoid shocking grandma)? Literally translated, this means ears of christ, I have no clue where the name comes from. Basically it’s what south of the US is called chicharron, crisp pork rinds, the top layer of pig fat and skin thinly sliced and fried. It’s like chips basically and just as addictive. You ain’t loosing weight this weekend, but it’s not what it was for.
It was to spend quality time with real friends and family.
And maybe pig out a little.
Talk to you guys soon.