the sap runs early - 2023
words + photos for the globe and mail
Tom Shaw still has the board on which his great-grandfather wrote yearly records of Shaws’ first boiling day.
Although the heart of the season -mid-March- hasn’t changed since 1904, this year the sap came the earliest it ever has in Shaws’ 119 years in the maple syrup business. Mr. Shaw’s first boil this year, the process of boiling sap into maple syrup, was on February 15, with the sap running a few days before that.
Mr. Shaw’s great-great-grandparents Thomas and Eleanor Shaw purchased their land in Oro-Medonte in 1893. It was an old growth maple bush that the couple used to sell firewood. In 1904, their son James suggested they start producing maple syrup.
Mr. Shaw and his wife, Terri-Lynn Shaw, are the fifth generation of Shaws to run the business, which now includes a pancake house and a catering company. They have invested in infrastructure, allowing them to collect sap earlier than Mr. Shaw’s ancestors could. But they see new fluctuations in weather. Higher temperatures and less snow have warmed the trees enough to cause this year’s early influx of sap.
Mr. Shaw uses a reverse-osmosis machine to remove the majority of the water from the sap in an eco-friendly manner. His oil-fired evaporator removes the remaining 10 per cent of the water, creating syrup.
Mr. Shaw says that maple syrup producers have an economic reason to let the sugar maple live its full life. A healthy, large, old tree will produce more sap, and also better absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
“This industry is unbelievably sustainable economically and it allows things to get to that age. We want those 350-year-old trees.”