Maple syrup is for pancakes, right?
It comes from the sap of sugar maples, Quebec is the largest producer globally, and it makes any breakfast better. End of story? Hardly.
A syrup is a syrup, but as creators of culture, humans give the things around us meaning, value. Considered a gift from the Creator in the stories of First Nations peoples who first tapped the trees and collected the sap, the industrial production of maple syrup has robbed it of much of its magic and mystery.
While much more easily accessible because of this, the pale amber syrup favoured by commercial producers resembles a darker, rich and smoky ‘homebrew’ syrup about as much as a microwaved fast food burger resembles a grass fed beef cheeseburger your dad barbecued.
Lisa and Steve McBride, along with their adorable goats, have been teaching townies about low-tech tree tapping for a few years now, and their celebration of the sap has found a permanent home in Pippy Park with the establishment of the community tapping grove and workshop site there.
Last year’s Maple Syrup Harvest Festival at the park brought 700 attendees. This year, on April 2nd, they will be ready to welcome that many or more with hot chocolate, smiles, entertainer Terry Rielly, and syrup tastings, competitions and the like.
Creating community around the syrup making is important to the McBrides. A “sap share” at Pippy Park will allow participants to work together to harvest the sap and each take a share to process at home.
“Post-season we begin by pouring a concrete slab on the site and building an evaporator and “Cabane a sucre” for use next year – so people can boil down communally around a fire on a Saturday afternoon as kind of a late winter social outlet,“ Steve tells me.
Leading up to the festival, the McBrides will be offering free workshops each weekend over March at Pippy, and also one weekday, TBA. Lasting about an hour and a half, warm and waterproof footwear is recommended. The basics of tapping and home syrup production will be covered.
What you won’t hear much about unless you do it yourself are the side benefits of making your own syrup. At a time when it’s cold and grey and so bloody tempting to stay inside and eat stormchips, setting up taps and going to check your buckets gets you outside, in nature.
You see the birds return, snowdrops and crocuses pop up. You learn how icebergs in the harbour, the phase of the moon and many other natural phenomena affect the trees and the sap. Yes, maple syrup has a terroir, a taste of place, just like wine.
With a current price tag many times higher then oil, this mineral rich sweet treat from the woods can either break your grocery budget or bring you and your family closer to nature and your neighbours. See you at the park! And yes, the goats will be there too.
The McBrides give a sincere special thanks to Friends of Pippy Park, whose volunteer work makes the park’s support possible.