Demystifying maple: What makes tree sap so delicious? (and where to find it in Ottawa!)

By Katharine Fletcher

In early March, when spring is tantalizingly close, don’t we all long for a taste of maple taffy and a visit to a maple sugar bush? 

It’s not only our kids who can’t wait to sample this oh-so-Canadian, homegrown treat. All of us enjoy visiting the sucreries, crunching through snowy woodland trails either in our boots, on snowshoes – or on a horse-drawn wagon. 

Part of the fun is learning how tree sap is collected, from which maple syrup, butter and sugar is made. 

What are the best conditions for gathering the syrup? I turned to Shirley Fulton-Deugo, fourth-generation maple producer who operates Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush in Pakenham. Despite being the fourth generation owner, Shirley considers herself its steward.

I asked her what conditions Mother Nature needs to provide in order for the sap to run. 

“The liquid part of sap is from the rain water that the tree has absorbed. It contains all the goodness from the tree and soil. The sugar content is sunlight working with the chlorophyll in the leaves in the summer.

“Then in late February, March and/or April we need approximately -5ºC at night and +5ºC in the daytime for the sap to ‘run.’ You can feel and smell when the sap is running! The fresh, crisp but warm air makes you unzip your layers of winter. Your tummy feels some butterflies, excited for longer days, spring jackets – and rubber instead of snow boots!”

Gathering sap is done in two ways. The traditional method is with spigots tapped into the tree trunk. The sap drips into buckets, which are collected by horse and wagon or, by tractor and wagon.  

This old fashioned method is very labour-intensive. Imagine going out to collect sap from buckets from more than a thousand trees! It’s important not to let the sap overflow the bucket. On a good day, it may need collecting twice! Ti-Mousse is the owner-operator of Cabane à sucre Chez Ti-Mousse in Papineauville (northeast of Ottawa, near Montebello). He has 1,800 buckets on 1,200 trees and gathers sap in the traditional way. 

“Our two horses do a lot of work,” says Ti-Mousse. “They haul wagons with a big bucket and we empty the pails into it – we do use tractors too. But, our visitors just love to see the horses working the bush. It gives them a sense of the way we all used to do things.”

The modern way is less romantic and far more functional as the trees are tapped and the sap is collected in plastic tubing. It snakes through the maple bush, transporting all liquid into the sugar shack for boiling.

“We need 40 litres of maple sap to produce one litre of syrup,” says Ti Mousse. 

Of course, all trees contain sap. This is how the tree feeds itself, so it should come as no surprise that other trees could also be tapped. When I was in Winnipeg last year, I met a father and son team who produce birch syrup at Rocky Lake Birchworks. It is delectable – although more expensive. And it’s  no wonder! It takes a lot more birch sap to make a little bit of syrup.  
This year, why not venture to a sugar bush, try some tire-sur-neige (taffy on snow) – and see how sap is collected in the bush? 

Our favourite Ottawa-area sugar shacks include:

Psst! Maple fans will also want to check out our instructions for making your own maple taffy!

Our very own Hockey Night in Canada

THUNDERSTICKS!  Use them at your peril. 

THUNDERSTICKS!  Use them at your peril. 

By Lynn Jatania

As a family who lives in our nation’s capital, I feel like it’s our duty to raise our kids to be hockey lovers. It’s our true national game (apologies to lacrosse lovers) and part of our Canadian identity, and I’m pretty sure I saw on Rick Mercer one time that the phrase “go Sens go” is in the national anthem somewhere. I mean, if you can’t trust Rick Mercer, then it’s over, isn’t it?
So even if you hate the cold (like me), and even if you can’t skate to save your life (like me), and even if the only two hockey player names you know are Wayne Gretzky and Daniel Alfredsson (also me), then you can still count yourself as a hockey lover if you take your kids to one Ottawa 67s game per year. 

YOU CAN SO.

Last month we took our kids for their annual hockey game outing, this time at the new arena at TD Place, which seemed like a smaller ice surface than expected, but maybe it just looked that way because the players all appeared to be literal giants masquerading as humans. The kids had a great time, counting down the penalties, cheering loudly for our team, cheering even louder for the pee wee players who came out at halftime. I think they learned a bit about the strategies involved, and became fans of a few key players. 

Meanwhile, here’s what a hockey game looks like if you’re a parent. Or maybe it’s just me. 

2:00 – Frantically circle for downtown parking for a half hour. Sprint with kids to their seats while carrying a sherpa’s worth of supplies in the world’s biggest backpack.
2:05 – Stand and cradle backpack for O Canada. Shush the kids asking if “Des plus brillants exploits” means “go Sens go.” (Answer: probably.)
2:06 – Struggle to sit in seat while wearing massive winter coat, holding everyone else’s coat on lap, and straddling the world’s biggest backpack at feet. Explain that we are here to see the 67s, not the Sens. Explain that they don’t wear red. 
2:08 – Blow up thundersticks. Immediately regret blowing up thundersticks.
2:10 – Hand out lovingly prepared snacks from backpack.
2:11 – Squirm out of seat, leave coat pile behind. Head out to search for better snacks.
2:20 – Return with better snacks.
2:21 – Squirm out of seat to search for napkins and possibly a mop.
2:25 – Miss end of first period while on knees, wiping spilled lemonade from under seats.
2:26 – Wave at cute pee wee players taking the ice while heading up the stairs to take youngest to the bathroom.
2:30 – Return first kid to seat. Take second kid to the bathroom.
2:35 – Return second kid to seat. Take third kid to bathroom.
2:45 – Second period begins. Notice that while camera is turned to the far end of the rink, we are just noticeable in the far bottom corner of the Jumbotron. Spend next five minutes waving frantically every time the camera turns our way. Wonder if hair really looks like that.
2:50 – Engage in spirited debate with youngest on whether player number 18 and player number 81 are, in fact, the same person. (Memo to self: increase at-home math practice.)
2:53 – At middle kid’s insistence, spend next eight minutes staring at scrolling ad screen rather than watching game, so we won’t miss the super cute red panda ad when it goes by.
3:01 – Hey, red pandas are cute!
3:05 – End of second period. Take all three kids on second snack run. Spend entire time waiting in hot dog line, only to discover when we get at the front that they actually wanted popcorn. SILLY MOMMY.
3:18 – Remove thundersticks from all children using them as light sabers. Add six thundersticks to pile of coats on lap.
3:20 – Third period begins. Miss face-off while looking for tissues.
3:25 – Find tissues only to discover kid has already used scarf.
3:40 – Receive 37th piece of garbage from small folk who believe there is a magic incinerator in the backpack. Add garbage to growing pile under seat; notice garbage pile now prevents seat from lowering. Sigh, squirm out from under pile of coats and thundersticks, to do a garbage run.
3:45 – Watch final five minutes of hockey game. Attempt to explain rules of body checking in a way that does not give anyone any ideas. “They are sort of giving them a gentle tap – just softly holding the other guy down for a moment – a lot like a big hug.”
3:55 – Game over! I’d like to tell you whether we won or lost, but I was too busy handing out coats and trying to remember where we parked.

Oh the good ol’ hockey game – it’s the best game you can name!

-

There are a few games coming up. Check the schedule and buy tickets on the Ottawa 67s website. You can read Lynn's past columns right here!

Pinterest roundup: the stuff of life (a.k.a BREAD)

It's Monday! And that means we're sharing some of our favourite pins from our Pinterest boards. This week we've totally got bread on the brain. Maybe because it's because we're still in winter/hibernation mode, but there's nothing more comforting than bread that's still warm from the oven. Here's the thing: making bread is easier than you think! Here are a few recipes that we've been drooling over lately:

Are you following Capital Parent on Pinterest? Follow us for family crafts, great kid-friendly activities, recipes and more. You can read all of our past Pinterest round-ups right here.

Friday fun: Oscar-nominated animated films

It's Oscar weekend! Some of us may be putting the youngest members of the family to bed early and camping out on the couch for a few hours on Sunday. Even though the kids won't be watching with us, they can watch the trailers for Best Animated Feature here on CapitalParent.ca! 

Which film do you think will take home the prize? Any predictions? (And why isn't the Lego Movie on this list?!) The nominees are...

How to Train Your Dragon 2:

Big Hero 6:

The Boxtrolls:

(The following two trailers may have frightening elements for younger viewers. Please heed the ratings.)

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya:

Song of the Sea:


Meet our latest Capital family!

Adam MacGillivray and his daughters Ava (8), Breyah (6) and Surrey (5) are doing a great job staying warm and stylish despite the frigid Ottawa temperatures, don't you think? They live in the Summerside area of Orleans.

Would you like to see your family photo published in Capital Parent Newspaper? For all of Ottawa to see? Check out our submission guidelines and send it in!

How about a batch of banana pancakes for Pancake Tuesday?

Mashing, flipping, cracking, this recipe has got it all! Plus it’s a really good way of using up spotty bananas. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

Mashing, flipping, cracking, this recipe has got it all! Plus it’s a really good way of using up spotty bananas. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

By Andrea Tomkins

One of the best ways to get kids in the kitchen is to get them helping as soon as they’re able. Even toddlers are capable of rinsing fruit, tearing and washing lettuce, stirring, and pouring ingredients into a bowl. Take childrens’ culinary skills to the next level by introducing a few recipes they’ll love to make from scratch, and love to eat as well. Good ones to start with could include scrambled eggs, spaghetti sauce, and pancakes.  

Super easy banana pancakes

Give your kid an apron, a chair to stand upon, and watch the magic happen. Not only is this recipe simple to make, but it makes great “flipping” practice for kids. Don’t worry if the pancakes get a little scrambled in the pan. They’ll taste just fine. Pro tip: if you keep the pancakes small (say the size of a toonie) they will be easier to flip.

You will need:

One or two ripe bananas, cut into pieces
Two eggs
Two tablespoons of all-purpose flour
Oil for frying

  1. In a medium sized bowl, use a fork or a potato masher to mash up the banana until it’s really gooey. 
  2. Whisk in the eggs until the mixture is smooth. 
  3. Add flour and stir until the mixture is well combined.
  4. Prepare the frying pan with a little bit of oil. 
  5. Use a tablespoon to pour the batter on the hot pan. Making one at a time is a good idea for beginners.
  6. Use a spatula to peek at the underside of the pancake. If it’s light brown, it’s ready to flip over.

These pancakes are fairly sweet on their own, but you can top with a bit of maple syrup, cinnamon, or dress them up with sprinkles if you’re celebrating a special occasion. They are also good the next day, and can also be eaten straight out of the fridge. 

Looking for more pancake recipes? Check out this previous roundup.