Making Maple Sugar Sweeties with Catharine Parr Traill
July 1, 2022
Catharine Parr Traill, February 1884
Back in the days before the Canadian nation was even an idea, refined sugar was a rare item indeed. Though there were many sugar plantations in the Caribbean, as part of the well-known triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas, precious little refined sugar made its way to the Kawarthas until the second half of the nineteenth century.
Today it seems like refined sugar is in just about everything, and candies, sweets and soda pop are everywhere. Back then having a candy was a special thing indeed. While there was practically no refined sugar, the Kawarthas did have maple trees in abundance, and practically every family joined in the annual tradition of sugaring off.
Catharine Parr Traill, a gentlewoman living near Lakefield, was part of a community where practically everyone was just trying to get by. But she (uniquely) had the time and the skill to record what was going on around her. In her first years living in the Trent Valley, she shared her experiences as the Backwoods of Canada (1836). In the decades that followed she went on to make a unique contribution to cataloguing Canadian Plants and produced The Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854). It passed on the practical knowledge she had picked up over her time in the backwoods for prospective immigrants to the Canadas (as they were then called).
One of the skills that Catharine shared was how to make Maple Sugar Sweeties. Her original recipe was written in an era when sugar was made in a kettle over a fire, and employed the saucers that were then common (but might crack from the heat of the maple syrup), but can be modified for a modern kitchen:
2 cups Maple Syrup
2 tablespoons white flour
4 table spoons butter
¼ teaspoon essence of lemon, peppermint or ginger (optional)
Pour the maple syrup into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and let it melt. Quickly stir to blend.
Bring to a boil on medium heat. Boil steadily for about ten minutes, until the temperature reaches the soft ball stage, 240F. Do not stir while boiling!
Pour into a buttered tin pie plate. Allow to cool for a couple of hours. Turn out onto a wooden surface. Cut into squares with a sturdy knife.