Nothing says New England quite like Sugar Maples and fresh maple syrup. The roots of modern American sugaring traditions lie heavily in Native American history and culture. In the early 1600’s before the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans were already tapping sugar maples and making maple sugar. The Native Americans in New England used maple sap to make cake sugar, grain sugar and wax sugar. During maple sugaring season, New England Native Americans would set up sugar camps. They would collect the sap in wooden buckets by creating V-shaped slashes in the tree to allow the sap to pour out. Since they couldn’t boil the sap in the wooden buckets, they would add hot rocks to help boil away the water and create a syrup-like consistency that would be made into products like brown sugar, maple sugar molds and wax sugar which was a taffy like maple confection made by pouring hot syrup on snow.
Sugaring was a skill that European settlers learned from Native Americans. Instead of making V-slashed cuts into the trees, the settlers drilled small holes into the trunk that allowed the sap to drip into metal pots which could later be boiled down over a fire. The settlers poured the syrup into wooden molds to create sugar blocks. The sugar blocks stored well and were used throughout the year for baking.
What started long ago, still carries on strong today. The hills of Western Massachusetts are dotted with Maple Sugar Shacks that come alive this time of year. It is amazing to visit these establishments and see how the sap is collected, stored and turned into syrup! Each year my kids have loved volunteering at a local Maple Sugar farm to help transport the sap down to the sugar house. They have learned so much about history and the hard work that goes into one gallon of Maple Syrup. Usually, about 40 gallons of sap are needed to make 1 gallon of maple syrup! That’s a lot of sap!
Maple syrup can be made from any species of maple tree. The highest concentration of sugar is found in the sap of the sugar maple. If you have some maple trees in your yard, it is a simple and very rewarding process to start tapping your trees. We picked up some sap buckets and taps from our local farmer supply store, but you could also use plastic food grade buckets. The best time to tap your trees is when the day temperatures stay consistently above freezing, but the nights still dip down below freezing. When we’ve collected enough sap we just put it in a pot on the stove until it boils down to syrup. It’s a great family tradition to share with your children. Who doesn’t love homemade pancakes and some homemade syrup!
Two of our favorite books about the Maple Sugar tradition and process:
Here’s a little glimpse in to a New England Sugar Shack Maple Sugaring Process:
Wishing you all a Very Healthy and Sweet Start to Spring!