I grew up in Hudson Heights, a small Quebec town, in a big oxblood-red house, its edges softened by wild grapevines and its foundation surrounded by cedars, ostrich ferns, and huge hydrangeas. In late April masses of tiny blue flowers—scilla siberica—that I called bluebells, pushed through the receding snow.
As I recall it, spring took its own sweet time. There seemed to be months of anticipation while the sun grew stronger, icicles melted in rhythmic drip, drip, dripping, and little rivers etched their way through the rotting ice. My mother and I would pull lawn chairs up to the sunniest side of the house onto an ever-widening patch of bare ground and bask there, while the hens and ducks—as impatient for spring as we were—pecked and dabbed in the mud at our feet.
Winters were long, and my father, a passionate gardener, must have been chomping at the bit to get back out there into the warming soil, but until then there were sugar maples to be tapped. I was just a little kid, barely tall enough to see into the buckets, but I went from tree to tree with him, holding the spigots, passing him one as soon as he withdrew the auger’s bit, dragging curls of moist maple wood out with it. He’d tap one in, hook the bucket up and move on to the next. The sound of those first few drops of sap hitting the bottom of the empty tin pail—tunk . . . tunk—was thrilling; and too delicious to not stick my tongue right under the spigot to intercept a drop or two of the super-cold, sweet water.
Father would be boiling the sap into syrup and Mother would be yelling about her sticky kitchen walls. And then, he’d boil a wee bit down even more, just for me to take outside and pour over the snow for maple taffy that I’d roll up onto a fork. It left me with a lifetime appreciation for all things sappy and syrupy.
Here’s how to make The Most Delicious Maple Syrup Hot Toddy
In the early days of spring when a little warmth is still in order, I could drink this all day; but then I wouldn’t be able to get anything done, so I save it for the weekend. It’s hot, creamy, a little bit sweet and spicy; truly, like apple pie in a cup with a boozy hit. Gorgeous! Maple water or sap is readily available in many grocery stores now, so even if you can’t tap your own, you can still enjoy this comforting toddy. Makes 1 Toddy.
1 cup maple sap (maple water)
2 tbsp Calvados or apple brandy
3 tbsp Apfelkorn (German apple schnapps)
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup whipped cream
Maple sugar for garnishing
1. Into a small saucepan over medium heat, bring maple sap and maple syrup up to a simmer.
2. Pour hot sap and syrup into a big, cozy mug; add Calvados and Apfelkorn; stir.
3. Top with whipped cream, garnish with maple sugar and enjoy immediately!
I’d Tap That!
Sugar maples yield one of the highest sugar content and sap flows, and that’s why it’s everyone’s favourite for tapping, but several other maples, birches, the juglans nut family, alders, linden, elm, hickory, and sycamore trees are also coursing with sweet water in the early spring. Beginner tapping kits are available from online shops or in country hardware stores, and instructional videos are all over the internet. It’s fun and easy: drill hole, tap in the spigot, hang bucket, wait. Remember, you can’t tap a tree trunk with less than an 8-inch (20-cm) diameter and some trees are potentially toxic, so always do your own research.
From Hudson, Quebec, now living in Port Hope, Ontario, Signe is a restaurant chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: LCBO’s Food & Drink, Manna Pro Hearty Homestead, The Harvest Commission, and Today’s Parent; she published her first book – Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes – in 2015. She studied Fine Art History and Humanities at the University of Toronto, and York University; she graduated with honours from OCAD University; she earned her Wine Specialist Certificate from George Brown College.