By Max Finkelstein
For several years, Connie and I have been tapping our local Norway maple trees in our yard and neighbouring yards. As disparaged as this introduced species is these days, it does make fine syrup almost indistinguishable from syrup made from sugar maples — but not quite!
The real magic of making maple syrup is the tangible connection to the changing of the seasons. Each day, the colour of the sap is different. Each day, the taste is slightly different: sometimes sweeter, sometimes it tastes like the purest water. Some days the buckets are almost full; other days, there’s barely a drop. Making syrup is our tribute to spring — our way of connecting to the sacredness of the season.
This year, we had some special visitors to our urban sugar bush, Dagii and Gungaa Jamts from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This was their first winter in Canada, and there is nothing more Canadian than maple syrup. Dagii and Gungaa found it thrilling, and just a little unbelievable, to drink the ice-cold, earth-filtered, slightly sweet sap straight from the trees. Watching the sap boiling and tasting it when it was about halfway to syrup was a real mind-opening experience. Realizing that you have to boil off almost 98 per cent of the sap to transform it into syrup really made them appreciate the value of this “liquid gold.” When they tasted maple taffy made by dribbling syrup on the snow, Gungaa’s smile said it all: “Wow! So delicious. Can I have more?”
There are many ways to connect to nature in Westboro, and making maple syrup is one of the best. We have always thought that Hampton Park would make an ideal urban sugar bush. There are over 100 mature sugar maples in the park, a field where you could set up a “sugaring off” shack and buildings where equipment could be kept. In our minds, this could be a demonstration sugar bush, where the syrup would be made in the “old” way…collecting the sap from buckets on trees and boiling it down over a fire.
But even better would be to make it the way some of our Indigenous communities did, by freeze-concentrating the sap as the first step. The point would not be to make a lot of syrup, but rather to open a door for people, young and old, to make spiritual connections to the changing of the seasons; to our trees; and to the earth… and have a lot of fun at the same time. Not to mention the delicious taffy on snow!