Sap run

bee pollen
The moment when the cold, hard sap of the Maple Tree melts into syrup, like the heart melting at the first rush of new love’s embrace: this is spring.

The historic Mennonite village of Elmira, near Kitchener-Waterloo in Southern Ontario, has marked this event with a festival on the first Saturday of April every year since 1964. Proponents claim it’s the biggest in the world – last year 2000 local volunteers flipped pancakes for 66,000 visitors – and after an hour waiting in line with hundreds of others for two measly pancakes early last Saturday morning, I’m inclined to believe it.

Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, April 2008

Any festival with food at its heart is one my family eagerly attends. Beginning with my parents’ university days in Waterloo, and then my own in that same institution, we’ve been making the sap run for decades.

Eating pancakes, Elmira Maple Syrup Festival

Locals and families line up early, with university students taking up the afternoon slot, to fill their bellies with the best pancakes in Ontario. Truly. Six-feet-long griddles sizzle with oil cooking the “secret recipe” pancakes to perfection – crispy on the outside and airy, fluff inside. And at $3 for a single cake and $4 for two, including coffee or milk, with all proceeds going to community groups, it’s all delicious. Syrup is generously poured but the spongy cakes soak it up quickly. Pour on some extra at the tables behind the pancake tent to ensure a thorough soaking and minor stomach ache.

pancake grill, Elmira

On Arthur Street church groups compete with 1st Elmira Beavers and the Optimist Club to hawk corn-on-the-cob, kettle corn, giant turkey legs, candied apples, pretzels, perogies, chicken pitas, quesadillas, apple fritters, maple candy, potato pancakes, and roasted pig to street meat-gourmands.

Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, Food Vendors, Albert Street

Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, chicken pita stand

If you haven’t had your fill drive ten minutes to St. Jacobs farmers market to pick up more, mostly local*, foodstuffs. My favourite is the beekeeper’s honey and pollen from nearby Elmwood – forget its supposed health benefits, bee pollen just looks pretty.
bee pollen

Last Saturday the sun finally brow-beat a long, cold winter, warming the hundreds crowding picnic tables to share in a simple Canadian ritual. And it was spring.

*young Mennonite girls were hawking five pints of strawberries for $5 (Hot Deal) – product of anywhere-but-Canada. But some smaller farmers sell only locally grown produce.



Filed under thrifty, travel

2 responses to “Sap run

  1. swankola

    Looks like a good time. I think pancakes were invented because there’s something wrong with drinking maple syrup with a straw.

  2. well i am craving a stack of pancakes something awful right now thanks to this post!

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