Sugaring season is here!
White clouds of sweet smoke could be seen billowing out of sugar shacks over the Easter weekend as the sugaring season is in full swing. I’ve already enjoyed my annual ‘cabane a sucre’ meal at an establishment in Rougemont,
a family tradition since most of the family is in Montreal, however, I’m bound and determined to get them to try out one of our local maple syrup eateries, superior I’m sure, next year.
With the warm, sunny days and cold nights last weekend, the sap in the sugar maples was really flowing. By Monday, at a state-of-the-art maple transformation facility, better known as La Ferme
Martinette, in Coaticook, owner Gérald Martineau and several employees were busy in a room full of stainless steel equipment, filling bottles of all sizes with the ‘liquid gold’. You can watch the fascinating process through a large window in the farm’s boutique where they sell an array of maple products, from traditional to new. On the new side was a maple, herbal tea which I’m indulging in as I write, and maple sugar nuggets which I also bought. The products were wrapped in tissue paper decorated with small maple leaves and placed in a gold- embossed gift bag.
“My grandfather made maple syrup and my father made maple syrup. I’m the third generation of maple producer but I’ve been here since 1990,” said Mr. Martineau in an interview with the Stanstead Journal.
Last year’s overall Quebec maple syrup harvest was low thanks to the summer-like weather we experienced, last March, which brought the whole thing to a quick end. However, this year looks promising. “The sap started flowing at the beginning of March for a few days, but then it stopped. But it’s been very good for the last ten days and the sap is a really good quality. According to the weather that’s been announced, we should have another good ten days. So I’d say it’s going well so far,” continued Mr. Martineau.
Although there used to be a ‘Cabane a sucre’ restaurant on the Coaticook farm, Mr. Martineau and the co-owner of La Ferme
Martinette, Lisa Nadeau, now concentrate on production and transforma- tion, processing more than 200,000 pounds of top quality maple syrup annually. “We make our own syrup here and we process select syrup from other producers, local ones when possible. We export about 85% of our production.”
The farm’s beautifully packaged maple products, which have won many awards here at home, are sought out by gourmands in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea and several other countries.
Now, if you’re looking for that old-fashioned, romantically rural sugaring season retail experience, you can head over to the Holmhurst Farm in Barnston West, easy to find with its huge, working, round barn. Tiers and tiers of cans of fresh maple syrup fill the porch, gallon jugs as well, waiting to be picked up by the many repeat customers.
“We had some special orders for syrup in these small cans; you can only get that size in the States,” said Stanley Holmes, showing me little cans that hold less than a cup of the ‘good stuff’; cute, but way too small for my family’s tastes. “We also made special bottles for Stanstead College,” added Mr. Holmes, showing me a glass bottle in the shape of a maple leaf filled with the light golden liquid, a perfect gift for visitors from abroad.
On Monday, family and friends were gathering sap from buckets hung on trees, some five feet wide, to bring to the sugar shack where Stanley Holmes Junior was getting ready to boil. “We started at the beginning of March and then stopped for two weeks. It started up again last Monday and its very good quality. But we need to make more,” said Stanley Junior.
Besides its wonderful flavor, maple syrup is also rich in minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, iron, copper) and B vitamins. To substitute it for sugar in a recipe, for every half cup of syrup used, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by thirty milliliters.
The right weather and careful processing are both crucial to produce top quality syrup. What’s also important is the type of soil in the sugar bush, the quality of the tree cover, the balance in the forest’s ecosystem and the orientation of the sugar bush.
Whether you like to pick out your maple products in a fancy boutique or get them from a neighbor, now’s the time!
James Holmes and Stanley Holmes junior (left to right) were about to start boiling again, on Monday, at the Holmhurst Farm in Barnston West.
Gérald Martineau, the co-owner of La Ferme Martinette, had his employees in full production mode, on Monday, at his maple syrup processing facility in Coaticook.