Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweet Success!

For the last two weeks I've been totally absorbed by We'd Tap That!, the maple syrup project with Not Far From The Tree. We tapped our first tree on Mar 3rd- Colette volunteered her large Norway maple to be our test tree, and for the first few days we had ideal temperatures! Sap needs certain conditions to run- nice and warm in the daytime and below freezing overnight. Colette's tree was a gusher! We were using 2 litre pop bottles as a collection system and the sap was running so freely we were soon scrambling to find containers to pour it in so we could freeze it. Over the weekend of Mar 5th we tapped an additional 6 trees in backyards scattered about Toronto and the sap was running strong. I felt a little like the boy with his finger in the dam; as fast as I could distribute empty bottles, tree owners and volunteers were filling them. For a few days everywhere I went I could be seen scrounging in blue bins for food grade containers that could hold a few litres- you can bet a got more than few funny looks as I traveled by subway with bags full of plastic bottles! We were also running out of freezer space- sap begins to break down after a day or so and we planned on boiling it down all at once so freezing was the only way to keep it fresh.

Then the weather intervened. The lovely warm days here in Toronto last week meant the temperatures didn't drop below freezing overnight. The sap run dwindled to a trickle. Still we managed to come up with 70 litres of beautiful clear sap!

The sap boiling takes a considerable amount of time because of the high water to sugar ratio. Most syrup operations use Sugar maples because the sugar content is the highest, hence the name. We were only tapping Norway Maples because they are the most abundant and healthiest of all urban maples. It takes about 60 litres of Norway sap to produce one litre of syrup. It's a lot of work for only a tiny amount of syrup! Our plan was to boil down the combined sap in a large borrowed evaporator pan over an open fire. We made arrangements with Dufferin Grove Park to use their existing firepit, ordered our firewood, and got our official permit from the city for the Sugaring Off Party on Sunday Mar 14. We planned to have sap and syrup tastings, a pancake breakfast, games and activities for kids and music by an amazing band, Makita Hack and the Log Rollers. The boil down day was scheduled for Saturday, the day before.

Then the weather thwarted us again. After weeks of sunny days we got hit with rain. A steady downpour for 3 days and if that wasn't enough to put a damper on things, it got windy too. Huge gusts of wind made for near impossible conditions- park rules dictate no open fires when it's windy. Thankfully Dufferin Grove has a wonderful rinkhouse with an industrial kitchen attached to the garage. So on Saturday we moved our operations indoors- the evaporator pan fit snuggly over the gas stove, almost like it was designed that way. With all four burners blazing and the ventilation on high to suck out the steam, we reduced our 70 litres of sap down to about 5 litres of partially finished syrup in record time!

Sunday dawned grey and cold but the winds had died and the rain held off. We opted to move the party indoors in any case so the garage was converted into a sugar shack, with photos and models of our collection system on display. We had a sampling station for people to taste the fresh sap and partially finished syrup while we continued to cook the remainder. Inside the rinkhouse, there was a roaring fire in the woodstove, and tables and chairs to sit at while enjoying the amazing band! The turnout was fantastic- tons of people stopped by for a sample and many stayed for the whole event. There was a long line for pancake, sausage and maple baked bean breakfast served up by the Parks staff and some of our volunteers in the Zamboni cafe - we even ran out of sausages.

But the crowning glory of the event for me was the final product- a tiny amount of beautiful, light, pure syrup!

My Quebec ancestors would be proud.

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