Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Brief History of Maple Sugaring

When it comes to the history of maple sugaring in America, historians are unable to produce a definitive timeline. However, according to the University of Vermont, written accounts referring to its production date back to 1557. Scholars have speculated that maple sugaring goes back even more, since several Indian tribes share legends about the sweet product. Today, we explore a brief history of maple syrup and sugaring in the United States and Canada.

Early Indian Legends 

According to, one early legend tells a story of a tribe chief flinging a tomahawk into a tree. When he did, sap drizzled out, and his wife decided to boil venison in the substance. The Indians have shared another myth explaining that their ancestors came across sap flowing from a broken maple tree branch. Members of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association believe that the Indians probably discovered maple syrup by trying “sapsicles.” These tree-generated treats are frozen maple-sap icicles that materialize on the tip of a broken tree stem.

Primitive Production Methods 

Many of the country’s first explorers wrote in journals. Their documentation tendencies have given today’s researchers a peek into the everyday lives of the northeastern Native Americans. According to these early writings, the Indians developed a maple sugar production process that dates back to at least 1609. Instead of living in one place, the Indians moved with the seasons. When winter gave way to spring, they would move into the forest to make their camps among the sugar maple trees. While there, the Indians would collect and process sap by forming V-shaped lacerations in the tree trunks. They would then gather the sap in containers. Since these early Indians did not have metal pots for boiling, they would produce maple sugar by removing the water from the sap through evaporation caused by hot stones.

People stored solidified maple sugar because they could use it throughout the year. New England’s Native Americans gave maple sugar as presents. They also used it for trading. The Indians even mixed it with berries, grains, and bear fat to create a dessert. In the summer, maple sugar was dissolved in water for a sweet beverage.

When the European settlers arrived, the Indians taught them their maple sugaring production methods. As early as 1790, people began looking for other ways to reach the sap because they discovered that cutting the trees was bad for them. A healthier way to get to the sap was to drill a small hole into the tree and insert a spile. This handy gadget released the sap more easily. People made the first spiles from sumac twigs because of the wood’s soft center. This section could be removed to form the device.

The colonists used wooden buckets to collect the sap from the trees. Once the sap was gathered, they poured it into large iron kettles and boiled the substance over an open fire. This process caused the syrup to thicken, and once it was thick enough to crystallize, they drizzled it into wooden molds to create blocks. Like the Indians, the settlers stored these blocks for later use.

Turning Sap Into a Commodity 

The next 100 years brought many changes to maple sugaring. For instance, producers replaced wooden buckets with metal ones, while metal tanks were used to store the substance. When it came to boiling, maple sugar producers started using large flat pans because they were more efficient. Manufacturers also constructed sugarhouses for boiling sap.

When the cost of imported cane sugar dropped, people started buying it instead of maple sugar. In 1788, the Quakers pushed back on this trend by advertising maple sugar as a moral alternative to granular sugar since slave labor was used in the development of cane sugar. By 1790, the maple sugar industry saw growth, with key advocates entering the picture. Thomas Jefferson, Judge James Fenimore Cooper, and Dr. Benjamin Rush all pushed the nation toward maple sugar.

The 1800s 

When it came to maple sugar production in the 1800s, inventions and patents were the rage. For instance, producers started using augers in 1810, while D. M. Cook requested a patent for an evaporating pan in 1858. Eli Mosher requested a patent for metal sap spouts a year later, and G.H. Grimm put in for a patent for his sugar evaporator in 1884.

Becoming an Industry 

In 1904, the Cary Maple Sugar Company was established, and it became North America’s largest producer of wholesale sugar. The industry mingled with technology in 1946, as this was the year that saw the first commercial power-tapping machine. Advancements continued to flood the maple sugaring industry. In 1959, Nelson Griggs patented a sap-gathering pipeline system. During the late 1970s, maple sugar producers started using reverse osmosis technology to reduce sap’s sugar content before sending the substance through the boiling process.

Researchers began investigating the health of maple trees during the last part of the century. In 1988, the North American Maple Project started looking into maple decline. Later, in 1999, maple sugar producers introduced the health spout. This invention used a smaller hole to collect sap.

Maple Sugaring Today 

Cornell confirms that technology and research have provided insight into maple sugaring. For instance, soil type, weather conditions, and tree genetics affect the quality of maple syrup, so those who collect it as a hobby should assess the area before they gather the product. It’s also important to protect the health of a maple tree by tapping it judiciously. A tree that measures 10 inches to 17 inches in diameter should only have one tap, while a tree that is more than 25 inches around can handle as many as three.

The history of maple sugaring is long and celebrated. Genuine maple syrup can only be found in the northeastern United States and Canada. Maple trees grow throughout the world, but America's northeast states and Canada are the only areas that have the proper climate for maple syrup. In fact, it’s mainly produced in Vermont, New York, and Maine. However, advancements have allowed the industry to expand to give the world access to the tasty substance.


We hope you have enjoyed this maple sugaring history! Interested in doing your own maple sugaring? Check out our supply of some of the best and cheapest maple sugaring products around!

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