Friends of Bronte Creek Park 

 

 

Always Brewing

It wakes us up and puts us to sleep. It’s a way to warm up on a cold winter day, and a reason to catch up with a friend on a busy afternoon. It soothes sore throats, settles anxious nerves and calms upset stomachs. We make it when company stops by unexpectedly, and when we don’t know what else to do for a grieving friend. It is a social experience, a medicine, an entertainment, and a tradition. It is the second most popular drink in the world (over 165 million cups are made around the world each day), and the second oldest. For as long as humans have been heating water, they’ve been tossing leaves in it. Tea, it can easily be argued, is a universal concept.

While many western cultures view tea as being quintessentially British, the drink most people know as ‘tea’ today traces its roots back to ancient China. One legend states that leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant accidently fell into the Emperor Shen Nung’s cup of hot water, and thus tea was born. From there, it spread to other south Asian cultures such as Vietnam, India, and Japan. It wasn’t until the 1600’s that tea became popular in European, and British, cultures.

It took a while for tea to saturate every level of English culture. Initially tea, along with other imports such as sugar and spices, was only drunk by the rich and powerful. In 1840, Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, suggested having an afternoon snack of tea and pastries during the long wait between the midday meal and dinner, typically eaten around 8:00 pm. The Queen loved the idea and the practice of having an afternoon tea quickly became popular amongst the upper classes. The lower classes, in true keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ style, began to indulge in the luxury drink more often as well. The growing demand combined with expanding trade routes and improved shipping methods to lower the price of tea leaves. Indeed, the clipper style of ship was invented with the aim to get tea to London faster.

Of course, not all tea was considered equal. The British soon began to mix different varieties together to form unique flavours, and invented several new utensils and dishes dedicated solely to the storage, mixing and brewing of tea. Different types of gatherings also acquired different names, many of which are misunderstood in common culture today. For example, ‘high tea’ was not a fancy party, but rather a quick meal taken at 6:00 pm by the lower classes. It gained its name ‘high tea’ from the fact that most people ate it standing up or sitting on tall stools. ‘Low tea’, in contrast, was a quick repast taken by upper class ladies sitting around low tables in their parlours. This was the more formal and elegant tradition that most of us think of as ‘high tea’ today.

Still, the mixing, brewing, and drinking of tea became a beloved daily ceremony in England and all of her colonies, including Canada. If you would like to learn more about the history of tea how to brew ‘a proper cuppa’, The Friends of Bronte Creek Park will be hosting a Victorian Tea at Spruce Lane Farmhouse on Saturday, May 18th and Sunday, May 19th. Sittings will be held at 12pm and 2pm, and we recommend arriving early as the program is very popular and seating is limited. Join us on Monday, May 20th for our annual Spring Time on the Farm event to discover more about Victorian culture. There is no additional charge for any programs, however donations are welcome. All proceeds are dedicated to enhancing the educational program in the park. Handmade crafts, quilts, woodworking projects will also be for sale.

 

Tiptoe Through the Trilliums

 trilliums

Winter, in all its icy glory, has its own sort of austere beauty. But spring brings with it an explosion of vivid colour back into our forests. As you explore the trails around Bronte Creek over the next few weeks, keep your eyes open for the many beautiful spring flowers carpeting the forest floor. Some, like our showy provincial white trillium will remain in bloom for weeks, while others will only peek their heads above the leaf litter for a few days before retreating below ground to wait out another year. Early blooming forest flowers take advantage of the fact that the tree canopy has not fully leafed out. They eagerly soak up the full rays of the sun before giving way for more shade-tolerant species in the summer.

We have listed below some of the most common early spring flowers found in Bronte Creek's deciduous forests. We included both a common name and the scientific name for each plant. Keep in mind that many flowers are known by different names in different areas. For example, our provincial white trillium is also known as large-flowered trillium, wake-robin, and white wood lily.

Spring Beauty – Claytonia virginica

 spring beauty long

These shy, delicate flowers are aptly named. Five white or pink petals are lined in darker pink veins that act as road maps to lead insects to the nectaries at the centre of the bloom. You don't have long to admire their beauty – the blooms last only three days, and close at night or even on cloudy days.

White Trillium – Trillium grandiflorum

trillium white

Our beautiful provincial flower can often be seen carpeting the forest around the Logging Trail and Trillium Trail in early to mid-spring. The large flowers are made up of three white petals that turn pink as they age. Sometimes the petals are divided by a green stripe ranging from very narrow to broad enough to cover the whole petal. These green stripes are caused by a virus.

The trillium flower definitely plays a long game; a germinating seed does not send up a shoot for the first two years. It then takes a further four years before the plant produces its first flower.

The next time you pass a trillium, remember you're looking at the culmination of a minimum of six years of hard work!

trillium green

 

Mayapple – Podophyllum peltatum

may apple

Have you ever noticed colonies of what look like tiny green umbrellas in the forest? The mayapple emerges from the ground furled into itself and gradually uncurls to reveal two deeply lobed, umbrella-like leaves. If you peer under the leaves, you will see a single white flower hang below. Eventually the flower will turn into a yellowish fruit. Interestingly, the flower contains no nectar and probably often self-fertilizes. Insects will still visit the flowers to gather pollen for food.

Treat mayapples with care; they contain a toxic substance called podophyllum which can cause skin irritations.

Bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis

bloodroot

These beautiful white flowers, clasped by a single lobed leaf, are one of the first blooms of spring and gain their name from the orange-red juice of the stem and rhizome. Just like the spring beauty, bloodroot blooms are fleeting and ephemeral, lasting only about two days. In that time, the flower produces large amounts of pollen, leading researchers to believe that it mainly self-pollinates. This increases the chances of seed production at a time of year when cooler weather can make insect pollination unreliable.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit – Arisaema triphyllum

jack in the pulpit

Jack-in-the-Pulpit has one of the most unusual flowers of the early eastern woodlands. In truth, the striped 'flower' is not the true flower at all, but a floral leaf forming a hooded canopy (the pulpit) over the tiny flowers located on the upright spadix (Jack). While not technically an insect-trapping plant, the shape of the 'flower' and its slippery inner walls means it often becomes an unintentional insect graveyard, containing the bodies of those unwary insects who wandered in and couldn't get out again.

Treat Jack-in-the-Pulpits with care, as they contain a caustic chemical called calcium oxalate.

Trout Lily – Erythronium americanum

troutlily yellow

These tiny nodding flowers form dense colonies easily identifiable by their mottled purplish-brown leaves. Many of the plants will produce only a single leaf, and no flower at all.  The small, yellow, lily-like flowers that do bloom are true sun followers – they turn on their stalks throughout the day to follow the warm rays. Trout lilies perform an important role in the nutrient cycle in the forest. Their roots retrieve phosphorus molecules from spring rain run-offs. When the leaves die back, they release the phosphorus into the soil and thus make it available for other plants to absorb.

Note: White trout lilies (Erythonium albidum) are a very similar species, but occur much more rarely.

troutlily white

Please follow good trail etiquette while looking for spring flowers and remember you are not allowed to pick or remove any flowers or plants from a provincial park.

Top Five Must-Try Treats at the Maple Syrup Festival

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There's nothing more quintessentially Canadian than a visit to a maple sugar bush to enjoy our national condiment on some fluffy pancakes. A visit to Bronte Creek Provincial Park's annual Maple Syrup Festival wouldn't be complete without a pancake drowning in maple syrup, but the Festival holds so many more maple treats. So gather the kids, hop in the car, and make sure to bring your appetites! Here's our list of our top five must-try maple foods!

pancakes and sausages

Maple Sausages

When you order your pancake meal, make sure you ask for the sausages. Staff, volunteers, and visitors alike all agree that the maple sausages aren't an option; they're a necessity to having a true Bronte Creek maple experience. Pro tip: wrap your pancake around your sausage and dip it in your syrup cup. I bet you can't stop at one!

Maple Kettle Corn

A country fair favourite, kettle corn is always a treat, but adding maple syrup to it rockets kettle corn to out of this world. You can find maple kettle corn (and regular kettle corn) at the Jaime's Cracked Corn booth. As a bonus, a portion of all of Jaime's Cracked Corn proceeds fund Friends of Bronte Creek Park projects, such as the maple syrup evaporator!

 just sugar

Fresh Maple Sugar

Step inside the Candy Shanty and discover a little piece of crystallized heaven. While maple sugar from the park store is a sweet treat, you can't beat a fresh, melt-in-your-mouth piece of maple sugar made on the wood-burning stove. Ask the staff wielding the magic wooden spoons for some suggestions on how to incorporate maple sugar into some delicious recipes!

Maple Cotton Candy

Another country fair staple with a maple twist! Jaime's Cracked Corn turns solid maple sugar into wispy clouds of cotton candy. I particularly like this maple treat because it's easy to take home and stash away for an after-dinner dessert... or a pre-dinner appetizer... or a car ride home snack... Honestly, my bag is usually open before I hit the parking lot.

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Fresh Maple Taffy

We all know that when it comes to fantastic food experiences, fresh is best. And it doesn't get any fresher than boiling hot syrup poured onto freezing ice right before your eyes. Maple taffy, usually made as a tasty reward at the end of syrup production for all the hard work, is probably Canada's stickiest tradition! Stop by the taffy station at the back of Spruce Lane Farmhouse to experience it for yourself.

 Maple Syrup Festival