The months of March and April mark the beginnings of spring weather where we look forward to the melting of snow and the shedding of winter clothes, the sprouting of tulips and daffodils, and of course, the start of maple syrup season. The annual tapping of maple trees and collecting of maple sap inevitably conjures up mental images of mouthwatering pancakes and French toast stacked high and dripping in the flavourful condiment so it’s no surprise that maple syrup festivals abound during this time of year, especially considering how the True North is known for its abundant production of the sweet syrup.
This year, Ontario is in for a real treat. From March 28 through April 13, the Hills of Headwaters region (comprised of Erin, Caledon and Dufferin County) unveils a brand new festival as part of their culture and tourism line-up: A Taste of Maple, an event that incorporates a myriad of maple syrup inspired activities, fun, and food! At the heart of A Taste of Maple is the marrying of local product and pride with culinary ingenuity where maple syrup is showcased in the most delicious ways possible. Bakeries and cafes churn out maple-infused pastries and sweets, restaurant chefs bust out their creative juices in the creation of maple-themed menus, and shops and organizations step in with family-oriented activities, offering cooking and art classes, art and theatre shows, informative and interactive sugar bush tours, hearty breakfasts, festivals and more.
The Town of Orangeville has welcomed A Taste of Maple with open arms, transforming its downtown core into a cornucopia of maple greatness. A number of bakeries and cafes on Broadway, including Wicked Shortbread, The Chocolate Shop, Lavender Blue Catering Ltd., and Mochaberry Coffee & Company Ltd. are offering various types of maple baked goods during the duration of the festival while numerous restaurants in the area are incorporating maple into their menus in plenty of ways, such as offering prix-fixe menus, a different dish using maple each day, or a special dessert made just for A Taste of Maple.
Wicked Shortbread at 96 Broadway features maple in a mouthwatering maple fudge shortbread: a tender, buttery shortbread cookie studded with finely chopped nuts, drizzled with maple syrup icing glaze and topped with a sweet piece of maple fudge in addition to selling bottles of local pure maple syrup in the shop.
In the neighbouring building just down the street sits The Chocolate Shop (114-4 Broadway), a specialty confectionery store specializing in everything chocolate; jams, jellies, preserves, and sauces; specialty drink mixes; and gift merchandise.
During A Taste of Maple, maple can be found in everything from bricks of maple-walnut fudge, maple-pecan tarts (a definite hot commodity given its rapid-fire sales since the start of the event!), dainty maple infused chocolate truffles, maple chocolate fudge cups, bottles of maple hickory barbecue sauce and maple berries vinaigrette, and jars of hot maple mustard, hot maple red pepper jelly and sweet and creamy maple butter. At The Chocolate Shop, there is no shortage of delicious and inventive maple syrup food options!
At Mochaberry Coffee & Company (177 Broadway) maple is on tap for their maple lattes and their monstrous maple crumble muffins and moist maple scones drizzled with maple glaze icing – perfect sweet accompaniments to your morning, afternoon coffee or tea or evening snack.
If maple sweets and baked goods only serve to get the appetite started, the restaurants participating in A Taste of Maple are here to satiate those pangs of hunger with scrumptious maple-infused dishes.
For a hearty meal full of character, flavour and more, head to the Barley Vine Rail Co. at 35 Armstrong Street in downtown Orangeville for an unforgettable dining experience. Perfect for families, foodies, and train aficionados alike, the Barley Vine Rail Co. is proud to present a full-on maple-themed prix-fixe menu ($30) during the event. Those who choose to embark on this maple culinary journey will be treated to a variety of tastes and textures that will delight the tastebuds.
To start, diners will receive a bowl of salted maple caramel corn for the table, followed by an appetizer of tender seared sea scallops sitting atop maple pulled pork along with parsnip puree and a smoked parsnip chip, finished with micro mustard green seedlings.
Once maple cravings have been revved up, diners can enjoy a choice between two entrees: a maple cured and smoked duck leg confit or an infused maple glazed Atlantic salmon, both served with a crisp frisée (curly endive) salad with walnuts and bacon lardons dressed in a sweet and sticky maple-mustard seed vinaigrette. A cool, sweet, and creamy maple panna cotta in a jar with maple leaf shaped gingersnap cookie finishes off this memorable maple meal.
Finally, a maple syrup event wouldn’t be an event without a family-friendly maple syrup festival, perfect for the kids and parents alike! The Optimist Club of Orangeville hosted a maple syrup festival during A Taste of Maple’s first weekend on March 29 and 30 at Orangeville’s Island Lake Conservation Area with a breathtaking view of a still frozen Island Lake upon entering the conservation area.
The festival offered families the opportunity to enjoy maple syrup in a fun and open environment with horse-wagon hay rides, sugar bush tours and demonstrations, wood carving, live music, booths selling maple syrup candy and confections (including Broadway’s Lavender Blue Catering Ltd. selling everything from maple-pecan tarts, maple-bacon and maple-toffee cookies, and maple scones), and of course, the festival’s famous all-day pancake breakfast with flying saucer-sized fluffy golden pancakes, beans, sausages, and local maple syrup.
The Orangeville arm of A Taste of Maple easily proves one thing: that maple syrup is as delicious and versatile as any ingredient out there. A Taste of Maple brings out local Canadian product and pride and the creative passion of artists and culinary minds, and at the same time bringing together locals, tourists, friends, foodies, and families alike.
Deb is the founder of Ate by Ate, a food blog dedicated to food scrapbooking, baking, and food adventures in Toronto and York Region. When she’s not hitting up cupcake shops, sushi bars, farmers markets and weekend brunch spots, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.