Sugar on Snow Party!
Updated: Aug 10
A Sugar Shack spring tradition that became a Snowy Foodie winter mission (to be continued)!
Yes, there is snow in some regions of Australia in winter! In July and August, white flake days always bring great excitement to people here. I find it funny as I grew up in a Québec region “where snow was invented” (folks say). Sometimes we could not see anything from the window as the snow was piled up so high, and I’m not joking. Québec winters are great when you like winter sports, but the excitement is not really the same for everyone (ex: when having to shovel a car to get to work, or for parents when school is closed on snowstorm days). Downunder, in the highest altitude towns of Snowy Valleys region (Tumbarumba, Laurel Hill and Batlow), we get occasional falls per winter, but the snow is quite slushy and heavy, usually melting on the same day (which reminds me more of Canadian spring). White patches settle up in Kosciuszko National Park and there is a ski resort at one hour drive from us (currently closed to rebuild as the site was devastated by the bushfires). It’s been many years since my last Québec winter, so I can now feel that bit of nostalgia when I smell snow, even though I never was much of a winter person. What I miss the most is a white Xmas, a consistently heated house that does not cost a fortune (I’ll get back to this point!), and the maple celebrations that begin at the very end of the season.
Australia's snowy woodlands • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2018-21
Québec snow is an essential element of maple syrup making as the water from spring thawing goes into the ground and up into the trees, which provides the maple water (sap). The trees are tapped and the sap is boiled to make maple syrup. Snow is also used for a traditional maple shack celebration treat. And it is called “tire sur neige” (pronounced tear sir neyeege) meaning maple taffy on snow, or a sugar-on-snow party. Pure maple syrup is made from boiled sap but if the syrup is boiled to a higher temperature, more liquid is evaporated and the syrup thickens. At a certain degree it becomes butter, then taffy, candy and finally sugar. These are maple products that are best in season but some of them can be found most of the year in Québec maple and tourist shops or can also be made at home. To make taffy, the boiled syrup is cooled and set on the snow. Then rolled up with a wooden stick or spoon, making a lovely soft lolly with crunchy icy grains! This is something very unique and special to the Québec maple celebrations that are traditionally called a “partie de sucre” (sugar party). If you find some good quality pure maple syrup and clean snow, it can be easily made wherever you are. However, it can take a few practices to get the right temperature to set the taffy (which can vary with the altitude level).
Since I had the idea to reproduce maple taffy on snow in Australia, I have faced many challenges. I have been trying different brands and grades of syrups. I also experimented by simply freezing the boiled syrup, or using some ice, or finally, with snow that we collected a bit further up the hills on a snowy day and quickly took home in the esky (cooler). There have been some failed experiments but I’m glad I tried these first at home and in small batches. Snowy days around us are rare but also pretty miserable… It gets cold and humid and the best public locations in the woodlands get very busy very quickly. The snowy forecast will often be mixed with rain and wind, so not usually the best for a sugar-on-snow party (or for camera gear). To be able to enjoy this with friends in the snow and organize a shoot is another tricky thing... As a first taffy party, we went a bit further up in the mountains near the Selwyn snowfields for a scout on a sunny weekend (for a safer drive, especially without winter tyres) and also once we knew that snow had established.
First Maple Taffy in the Snowys • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021
We were lucky that the weather was just perfect and that our friends were able to join us on the expedition. And that was a week before the whole state of NSW went back to another "stay at home" lockdown to stop the spread of Covid 19. To find a safe spot with parking, trees, untouched snow and privacy was a little tricky. No little roads are cleared, and since the fires, many are still closed. We managed to meet (with low phone reception) and find a location after a bit of driving around, not quite what I had in mind but we worked it out. I brought a propane burner stove for boiling the syrup and some homemade pea soup with ham sandwiches to have a bit of non-fancy sugar shack-style picnic lunch before dessert! I had a bit of trouble with the maple taffy as we were at 1400m altitude and my first attempt was too hard. The second one was not quite set... but still yummy! The snow helps to cool down the thickened boiled syrup and adds some crunchy icy texture to it, which makes the taffy lollies a very pleasant treat. You can pour the hot syrup straight on the snow, however, the taffy is easier to roll when the snow is compacted into a container.
The smell of syrup boiling is my favourite part of taffy-making because it really reminds me of going to the sugar cabins! The boiled syrup is poured in stripes on clean snow and with a wooden stick, you roll the taffy to make a nice soft and sticky lolly. After two trials we were sugared up enough so I called it a wrap for this one, and we kept exploring the beautiful surroundings, the day was splendid. I’ll know how to be prepared better next time! This sweet taste of the end of Québec’s winter and celebration of the sugar is a unique experience that I'm pleased to bring abroad and revisit myself. I’m working on a recipe and method that will suit our climate and location, doing all the hard work to make it easy for anyone wanting to try it! Maple syrup might not be a locally made product, but as a French Canadian food blogger living in a snowy region, introducing my native food culture and traditions like the maple taffy on snow is an absolute Snowy Foodie mission!
Maple traditions revisited in Australia • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-21
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