Maple syrup is to central Ontario as grapes are to France.
Our friends, Steve & Janet Roedde, manage a "sugar bush" on St. Joseph Island in central Ontario. Their business is complex, sophisticated, and sustainable, harvesting one of nature's sweetest and greatest offerings. In contrast to large-scale commercial operations, theirs is powered entirely by wood and solar energy. Extensive networks of blue tubing snake through the forest at waist height, transporting sap from tree to larger underground pipes and then to the processing barn, under pressure from vacuum pumps. Sap enters the barn at 2% sugar content, is subjected to "reverse osmosis to bring it to about 8%, and is then brought to a wood-fired boil. Once syrup reaches 67% sugar, it is filtered and bottled. A 40:1 ratio exits between sap and syrup, and each tree offers about 15 gallons of sap per year. It is not uncommon for 100-year-old trees to continue to give sap at this rate.
Maple trees are adaptive and grow in numerous micro-climates; on clay-bottomed lowlands and on well-drained, limestone-based, high ground, each providing its own flavor. 150 natural compounds contribute to flavor in syrup, with the most complex flavor coming from limestone.
Gleaning all of this from Janet & Steve led us to reflect more on the concept "terroir". Though terroir is translated as "earth", the wine industry has expanded its dimension, by adding "time" to the concept. Maple syrup offers even better flavor at the end of the season than at the beginning, we learned.
One reason we like to go to Ontario over the 4th-of-July is local sweet-peas are at their peak. Below is a picture of a sweet-pea pie, which Susan made, in honor of her southern heritage. This required several hours of dedicated shelling, but the results were worth the labor! Vegetables in the cool northern climate are exquisite, not unlike fish from cold waters of the Atlantic. That we drive so far for that particular taste at that moment of the year is testimony to the poignancy of terroir.
It has been said that a bottle of wine is the ultimate distillation of time and place, offering a detailed account of the past to those who discern. I asked Susan's daughter, Alexandra, who is a wine merchant with Winecraft, to share a few thoughts about this subject. She offered many interesting insights but one was particularly evocative.
I use as an example my visit to the Loire Valley last summer, where the land is heavy with limestone. I was sitting at a café in the town of Chinon having a glass of Chinon, and I couldn't help but smile. I urged my friend to smell her wine. Because it smelled like the limestone that scented the air, that built the walls of the town, that was deep in the soil, where these Cabernet franc grapes are grown. This varietal grows in many parts of the world, but it was undeniable the wine we were drinking was from Chinon.
Imagine, realizing the scent of the wine in-hand was identical to the smell of the ancient limestone walls of the church on the square...
Several weeks ago we scheduled our first batch of chickens to go to a certified chicken processor, rather than doing them ourselves. Well, the plant inspector from Ohio Dept. of Agriculture decided to depart for another job two days before we were to deliver them. ODA provided another inspector within a week, so we held off and took the birds a week later. In the meantime, they continued growing, and the result was we ended up with about half the processed birds weighing over six pounds. This is too large for most people to purchase, so Susan conceived of cutting the birds in half and smoking them. We tried a sample, for 5 hours at 200 degrees, and took it with us to the north country, and thought it was fabulous - rich and full of flavor. We are going to smoke a few more this weekend, and will have them at the Hyde Park market, if you are interested. We will reserve a half for you, if you apprise in advance. $10/lb.
Thank you for joining us on this geographic journey. Whether one's food is from St. Joseph Island, Ontario; Chinon, France; or Hillsboro, Ohio, terroir is part of what makes it exceptional.
We will be at Findlay market on Saturday and Sunday, Hyde Park on Sunday, and Blue Ash on Wednesday.
In the earth,
Drausin & Susan