Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Our French Canadian Roots: Maple Syrup Recipes - la Tire & Feves au Lard a l'Erable {Maple Taffy & Maple Baked Beans}

Sharing our French Canadian heritage with a monthly recipe from our childhood, hoping to inspire similar traditions and memories for our daughters

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of a cabane a sucre in Quebec. My mother's friends owned a camp in the woods, and I remember the thrill of riding a trailer of sorts - a low plank on wheels hitched up to a tractor - through the woods, feet hanging over the edge, mud gathering on my pants. The whirl of activity around us as the hot, sweet steam filled the air inside the camp, coating our skin in dew. The rows of metal tubs, filled with sap though others were used to cook beans and eggs to feed the friends and family gathered together. Waiting with utter excitement for when they would start pouring thick syrup onto a patch of snow, turning it into sticky, delicious tire. I don't know how young I was, but I believe these memories are from my earliest childhood, and it was the beginning of my life long love of maple syrupI haven't been able to fully replicate this experience with the girls, but I have passed down my love of syrup. Every spring we do drive a couple of hours to a working maple farm and restaurant to stock up on a year's worth of syrup - all the sweeter since at this point we'll have been rationing it for the past month or two. Though there is no tractor ride through the forest, we take a hike in the woods following the tubing system attached to maple trees, up to their (now defunct) original sugar camp enjoying the fresh air. The highlight continues to be la tire, also known as syrup on snow or maple taffy. 

You can read about the history of maple syrup here.

Maple evaporator
Photo Credit: Denis Savard
Canada produces 80% of the world's maple syrup, and Quebec produces 91% of that.

Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. This sap is collected during the spring by tapping maple trees, which means to drill holes in the trees and insert a spout. Though previously metal buckets were used to collect the sap, these days it is collected in tubing that directs the sap into tanks. This process can only occur over a few weeks in spring, when temperatures are above freezing during day, and below freezing at night. Because the sap is 98% water, it must be boiled down to produce syrup, and can be boiled down further to produce maple sugar. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. That is to say, it takes 2 1/2 cups of sap to produce 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.

You can see pictures of maple trees being tapped here 

Clockwise from top left: tubing connected to maple trees; an older, now defunct, sugar camp; sap tank; maple syrup products.

La Tire D'Erable

Maple Taffy

I may have mentioned how much we love syrup on snow :) It's all I think about as we drive up to the sugar shack. 

A few years worth of pictures visiting the cabane a sucre and enjoying la tire. It's fun to see the girls so young, and my nephew's first taste. That's Pea in the bottom left corner at 6 years old.
What if you don't live near a sugar shack? That doesn't mean you need to be deprived of the delectable treat that is syrup on snow. All you need is clean snow, maple syrup, a candy thermometer and a popsicle stick

La tire d'érable/ Maple taffy
Photo Credit: Nathalie Babineau-Griffiths
1. Pack clean snow into a pan or wide dish, or just find a good patch outside not too far from your kitchen.

2. In a small pot, bring 1/2 cup of maple syrup to a boil over med-high heat. Put in a candy thermometer, and wait until it reaches 235F.

3. Pour in small streams over snow. It might be easier to put the syrup in a heat proof measuring cup first. Give the syrup 10-15 seconds to solidify a bit on the snow, place a popsicle stick in it and roll the syrup over the stick. 

Enjoy this while it's nice and cold. Pea devours hers immediately, but Elle and I savor it, trying to make it last. Sometimes this savoring warms up the taffy, and we just roll it back in snow for that cold sweet kick. This will get messy. Someone will have sticky hands. I recommend pulling your hair back from your face :)

Backyard syrup on snow

Feves au Lard a L'Erable

Maple Baked Beans

Baked beans are integral to both mine and Hubby's food culture. When family comes to stay for any extended period of time, baked beans are made. Anytime we visit Hubby's parents, baked beans are part of the breakfast meal. Hubby's family especially go all out during family reunions, where beans are baked in a pit in the ground heated with hot coals. Sometimes they are sweetened with molasses, but this time of the year, they are sweetened with maple syrup. They're tasty with brown bread, or as a side dish for breakfast with eggs (fried in maple syrup).


Ingredients:
  • 1 16oz bag of dried navy beans - cover with water in large bowl and let soak overnight
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 3 tsp dried mustard
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup

1. Drain the soaked beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, approximately 30 min. Skim off the white foam while they're cooking. Drain and put back in the pot.

2. Cut your onion in half and slice. Slice the bacon. Add into beans.

3. Mix the rest of the ingredients into the syrup and pour over the beans. Add just enough water to cover them, and stir gently.

4. Bake, covered at 300F for approximately 4 hours. 

Baked beans also freeze well, which is practical because you don't want to eat too many beans over a short period of time :) When serving, you might enjoy an extra drizzle of maple syrup over them.

Just about everything tastes better with an extra drizzle of maple syrup!

Various outings to the cabane a sucre, over the years
You can find more multicultural recipes with Around the World in 12 Dishes, a group of bloggers that explore a set of countries, one per month, through food and activities. 
You can find their roundup and a linkup to join for  Canadian dishes and activities here. 

You can find our other French Canadian recipes here.

8 comments:

  1. What fun memories for your kids! I remember tapping Maple trees when I lived in Minnesota as a child:). I hope one day I can share that with my kids!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you can too - it's such a great experience! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  2. Sounds delicious! I love all the culture that is in each of your posts.

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  3. Have you written a Why I Blog post? If you have, can you put a link in the comments here...
    http://homeschooljournal-bergblog.blogspot.com/2014/04/why-do-you-write-blog.html
    If you haven't, consider yourself tagged.

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  4. You have the best fun! Can I come visit? (I do realise I ask this almost every comment I leave, but...... can I?)

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    Replies
    1. You and your lovely family are most welcome anytime! (We have a basement you could stay in :-) )

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