Off the Beaten Path
By Madeline Kallio
The legends about the discovery of maple sap are numerous, but a very special one is about the mouse who tried everything to survive a harsh winter. When the snow and ice covered the tender branches, he nibbled at the ironwood tree and found it too hard; he nibbled at the spruce and found it too bitter; when he nibbled at the sugar maple, he found the mildly sweet nectar flowing from the wound he had made in the tree quite palatable. He drank until he could drink no more and, within a few days, he was fat and healthy. His friend, a Native boy, and his family were weak and thin. When little mouse told of the tree nectar, the Native boy cut a wedge in the maple tree and tasted the goodness of the sap. He brought it home to his tribe, and they, too, became well and fat. One evening, his grandmother thought to warm the sap and, when she overcooked it on the fire, she threw
it in the snow, thereby making maple taffy! The First Nations used maple sugar long before the arrival of the Europeans; and, subsequently, used it to barter for goods. The early settlers learned the craft from the Natives and called it Indian sugar or Indian molasses. North America is the only place that sugar maples are found; and maple syrup is produced in the north-eastern part of the continent. Legend has it that the saw-whet owl sings when the sap is running, and the sap stops running the first-time thunder is heard.
Modern technology has invaded many sugarbush operations, and collecting lines are connected from tree to tree and piped into the processors. However, many maple syrup operations still operate with pails hanging from the trees, filling with the sweet sap. The best temperatures to encourage the sap to run are below the freezing point at night, rising to five degrees Celsius during the day.
The Festival of the Maples, hosted by the Perth Chamber of Commerce (613 267-3200), is celebrated on the last Saturday in April in Perth. This festival marks the end of the sap run and brings people out into the streets to enjoy all things maple, exhibits, and entertainment.
Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec have a wonderful variety of sugarbush meals that can delight the sweet tooth. English-Canadian pancake houses
generally serve pancakes, maple baked beans, and maple syrup with sausages and various baked goods; whereas, French-Canadian cabanes à sucre serve a variety of dishes which can include omelettes, bacon rinds, maple baked beans, maple-cured ham, pea soup, pickles, eggs, pancakes and maple syrup. Fiddlers and line dancing entertain guests at Quebec sugar shacks. Sleigh rides, trail walks, maple syrup processing demonstrations, and maple products are available at most maple bushes. Most sugar shacks are open only on weekends, and it is wise to call ahead and make reservations. In view of the COVID restrictions, when there is a great deal of uncertainty with respect to restaurant openings, a phone call or visit to a website can offer information with respect to what the establishment offers.
Eastern Ontario has a number of taste-tempting pancake houses, most of which serve tradition English-Canadian fare. Fulton’s Pancake House (613 256-3867) on Cedar Hill Road near Pakenham has many attractions for the whole family and group activities year-round. In addition to pancake meals, they offer a variety of products at the Gourmet Shoppe, hikes, horse-drawn hayrides, scavenger hunts, and music. Barney Shields’ grave along the trail stands as a monument to an uneventful life. Wheelers Pancake House, Sugar Camp and Maple Heritage Museum (613 278-2090), 1001 Highland Line, McDonalds Corners, serves sugarbush meals year-round with homemade maple sausages and pancakes, sells a variety of maple products, and has a museum with a 2,000-square-foot exhibit, hiking trail, and a playground. Tim Wheeler operates a blacksmith shop on-site and fashions out of steel a variety of items for home, garden, and work. On the site of the mid- 1800s McEwen Sugar Camp (the old building still stands on the property), Temple’s Sugar Camp Restaurant (613 253-7000), 1700 Ferguson Falls Road, serves a variety of meals and sells an eclectic mix of maple products and is a popular wedding venue. Spencerville is home to two pancake houses: Hunter’s Maple Products and Pancake House (613 658-2619), 5031 Rock Road,
Spencerville, is open weekends in March and April. The pancake house at Drummond’s Sugarbush(613 658-2188), 3719 County Road 21, is open from the first week of March to mid-April on weekends, offers full-sugarbush meals and maple products. Stanley’s Old Maple Farm (613 8212751), 2452 Yorks Corners Road, Edwards, offers a sugarbush buffet of pancakes, sausages, waffles, eggs and beans from the end of February to mid-April.
East of Ottawa and a short distance from Gatineau in Quebec are found a number of sugarbushes, which serve traditionally French-Canadian fare such as pancakes, sausages, ham, eggs, pork rinds, maple baked beans, and desserts. In Ontario, Proulx Sugarbush (613 833-2417), 1865 O’Toole Road, Cumberland, serves sugarbush meals during March and April. It offers buffets on weekends and for groups. Sand Road Sugar Camp (613 538-2991), 17190 Sand Road, Moose Creek, serves a combination of French and English cuisine, including pork jowls, home fries, omelettes, and sinful maple syrup tarts. In Quebec, sugar shacks generally open in late February for seven days a week during the sugar season and can be found north, east and west of Gatineau. They cater to large groups as well as individuals and offer, in addition to meals, sleigh rides, taffy on snow, entertainment and permit guests to bring their own wine. La Cabane à sucre Brazeau (819 4275611), 316 Côte St. Charles, Papineauville, serves rustic French Canadian meals,
sells maple products, offers sleigh rides, and live music. Cabane à sucre Ti-Mousse (819 427-5413), 442 Côte St. Charles, Papineauville, offers an oldfashioned Quebec meal, entertainment and has a sugarbush behind the sugar shack. La Sucrerie du terroir (819 671-3113), 796 chemin Fogarty, Val-des- Monts, is a rustic sugar shack built from the original wood from the early 1800s La Ferme du Terroir. Cabane à sucre Cheslock (819 457-2552), chemin de la Savane, Val-des-Monts, serves pancakes, potatoes, sausages, pork belly, homemade beans, eggs, coleslaw, and more. Le Domaine de l’Ange-Gardien (819 281-0299), 1031 chemin Pierre-Laporte, L’Ange- Gardien is open until the beginning of May and also offers tubing. Érablière St. Germain (819 2814822), 562 Doherty Road., L’Ange-Gardien, is open all week and offers full sugarbush meals, entertainment for
groups, and maple products. Érablière Mayo (819 7435838), 300 Chemin McDonnell, Mayo, is open weekends in March and April by reservation and serves a variety of menu items, including maple smoked salmon. Northwest of Gatineau, you will likely see deer along the way to the Érablière du Cerf (819 463-3896), 93 Montée des Pins, Blue Sea.
Although maple syrup is fairly expensive to use in cooking, the results are terrific, and you might like to try adding maple syrup to your next batch of beans or substituting half of the brown sugar in your butter tarts with maple syrup. Drinking maple sap is also very refreshing. Vegetables, especially potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and other root vegetables, have added flavour when you boil them in maple sap or add a little maple syrup to the water. Some folks like to dip bread in bowls of maple syrup or quaff a glass of the golden liquid from time to time. Maple syrup pie loaded with pecans can be a wonderfully decadent addition to any meal. Maple sugar in coffee or tea is scrumptious, as is maple butter on toast. Maple candies and maple suckers are a favourite with children of all ages.
Dotted around the landscape of Eastern Ontario and throughout much of Quebec are the farmers who, as a good portion of their livelihood, take advantage of the rich liquid gold which flows in the springtime. Many sugarbushes sell products, and a few offer sugarbush meals. This article has highlighted a few places which offer meals but there are many more, as well as a plethora of sugarbushes that only market their wares. It is impossible to list them all, so visitors are encouraged to explore and discover for themselves the sweet treasures along the backroads.
Madeline Kallio is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Fifty-Five Plus.
With its preponderance of pussy willows and signs of awakening, the springtime is a great time to drive the country roads and find new and exciting places to enjoy a meal in the country or just stop in to buy the delicacies of spring. Because of the COVID pandemic, sugar camps must follow provincial guidelines and could not open to the public in 2020, but many offered take-out and delivery. It is wise to call ahead for information on spring offerings.