The History of Maple Syrup

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|Reading Time 4 Minutes|

    The First Nations people of North America first made the discovery of maple syrup in Eastern Canada. Many legends abound, but by all account the discovery was accidental, either a pot was left under a broken maple tree branch and the sap later boiled into syrup while cooking, or a knife or axe was thrown into a maple tree and sap was found dripping out from the gash where the tool had cut the tree.

    Native people used it both as a sweetener, medicine and here in Nova Scotia, an item of trade with the French at the Fortress of Louisbourg. The first sugar makers would collect the sap by making a gash in the tree and placing a wooden trough at the bottom of the tree.Then the sap would be boiled in a hollowed out log heated by rotating hot stones from a fire. Later on the log was replaced with a metal cauldron over an open fire. Using these methods maple sugar was created.

    Upon their arrival in North America, early settlers in Eastern Canada learned about maple sugar from the Fist Nations people. White sugar was not only very rare but also very expensive and a luxury to have during the 17th century. So the idea of simply tapping a maple tree for a source of sweetener was very significant. Due to a lack of instrumentation and air tight containers the vast majority of maple production in these early days was straight into pure maple sugar instead of syrup.

    The early sugar makers would drill holes in the sugar maple trees during the spring, hang buckets under the holes, and wait for the sap to run. When their buckets were full, they would bring their sap to a sugar house built in the woods. Since the sap is around 98% water, it had to be boiled over a wood fire, resulting in sweet brown syrup and eventually granulated sugar. With the European settlers came metal, which revolutionized maple sugar production. Three pots of varying size would be hung over open fires to produce the maple sugar. Eventually, the maple industry in Quebec and Vermont started producing evaporators, which were invented in 1860. The evaporators eliminate much of the labour and difficulties put into boiling the sap over an open fire.

    Today, maple syrup producers use tubing systems instead of buckets to collect the sap more effectively. Maple syrup producers drill holes in the trees, then insert small plastic spouts that connect to the maze of tubing, which direct the sap into tanks. We now have more advanced technology such as vacuum systems for collecting the most sap as possible, reverse osmosis filters which remove some water before the sap is actually boiled, and oil fueled furnaces.

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  • Jamie Merrimen
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