Making maple syrup with dad – Quebec Maple Syrup Pie

This Apron Strings contest submission comes from Aube Giroux, a documentary filmmaker and food blogger, won Saveur magazine’s Best Single Video about preparing rum babas for her late mother’s knitting club friends back in the Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia. (congrats Aube!)  This story has been condensed from an article she wrote for this year’s spring issue of Edible Toronto magazine – you can see accompanying photos and a video of my dad making maple syrup & me making maple syrup pie on my video cooking blog on the kitchenvignettes blog

Photo Credit: Aube Giroux

Last year I received a bottle of homemade maple syrup from my dad. For several years now, he has been tapping five large maple trees on his property just east of Montreal. He loves to brag about how energy efficient his process is since he evaporates the sap in big pots right on his woodstove, which is chugging away all winter regardless, heating up his whole house. He jokes that it’s the lazy way to do it, since the maple syrup basically makes itself. To get a litre of maple syrup, you need forty litres of sap, so it takes some time for that much water to evaporate, especially when you’re doing it the slow way, like my dad.

This year I joined my dad on his maple syrup-making adventure. He and I have always been close but, since my parents separated soon after I was born, I never actually lived with him until I was 17 years old. Some of my favourite moments during the two years we lived together were the midnight snacks we occasionally shared after he came home from his evening nursing shifts. Often, this consisted of a slice of bread soaked in a bowlful of maple syrup. Of course, we both knew the bread was just a flimsy excuse to guzzle down an otherwise embarrassing amount of syrup. Every now and then, he would buy a maple syrup pie, a traditional Quebec dessert, and we would eat it together.

My dad has always managed to get by on very little and there is a French expression that he has been repeating to me ever since I was a kid. It roughly translates as: It’s hard enough being poor, why make the matter worse by living as though you were. Of course it sounds better in French but the gist is that you don’t need money to enjoy the finer things in life. And my dad has always found a way to surround himself with beautiful things: wild flowers on the kitchen table, sublime choral music on his stereo every morning, an antique dresser salvaged from the side of the road and brought back to life, and other such discarded treasures. This thriftiness, coupled with a wholehearted commitment to the pursuit of beauty and pleasure, was a guiding principle in my family.

The most precious moments of my childhood were witnessing my parents’ abilities to cultivate, use, and appreciate the tasty treasures that nature showers upon us. My dad says that maple syrup is a gift from nature, one which we can choose whether or not to accept. In his own words, he thinks it would almost show negligence on his part not to take this gift given that he is surrounded by large sugar maples. Ironically, he lives just up the road from a commercial maple syrup producer and has always had access to all the maple syrup he wants. It’s obvious that the choice to make his own comes from the tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction that he experiences from the process. It reminds me of a quote I’ve noticed floating around on the internet: Happiness is homemade.

Early this spring, I made the trek from downtown Toronto to my dad’s little piece of paradise in the woods, on a quiet, isolated mountaintop near Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. With the birds gossipping away and the wind whispering promises of warmer days ahead, it’s easy to see why he loves this springtime ritual so much. Walking in the woods together, we drank sap straight out of the cold metal buckets. Refreshing and invigorating, the icy liquid jolted us out of our winter sluggishness. After we poured buckets of sap into a big metal pot, we sat back, warmed our toes, and let the woodstove do the rest of the work. The intoxicating smell of maple infiltrated every corner of the house and my dad and I delighted in sampling the sap at each and every step of the way, tasting the flavour and sweetness intensifying as the liquid gradually changed, reduced and thickened into syrup. I recall these wonderful springtime moments shared together whenever I pour maple syrup on my crepes and whenever I make the recipe I’m sharing with you here for maple syrup pie. Merci Papa!

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MAPLE SYRUP PIE

Pastry
1 batch of your favourite pie crust pastry

Filling
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup whipping (35%) cream
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs

Roll out the dough and place it in a 9-inch pie plate. Place in the refrigerator until the filling is ready.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the maple syrup just to a boil. Cook the maple syrup at a gentle bubble, reducing the heat if necessary, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Stir in the cream. Transfer about 1/2-cup of the mixture to a small bowl; whisk in the flour and salt and then whisk this back into the mixture in the saucepan. Allow to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and whisk them into the mixture in the saucepan. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake in a 325 to 350º oven until the centre is golden brown and bubbly, and firm when lightly touched, about 45 minutes.

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