Native Americans were the first to discover 'sinzibuckwud', the Algonquin word for maple syrup,
meaning literally 'drawn from wood'.
The Native American Indians had been making sugar from the sweet sap of the maple tree for many
years. From the journals of early explorers we know that the Native American Indians had a process for making maple
sugar as early as 1609. There are many Indian legends about how maple sugar was first discovered. One Iroquois
legend tells how one man had thrown his axe into a maple tree one late winter evening. After he removed it the
following morning, the weather turned sunny and warm. Sap began to flow from the cut in the tree, and drip down
into a container which was at the base of the tree.His wife used the sap to boil the meat for dinner. As the water
in the sap boiled away, a wonderful, sweet maple taste was left with the meat.
the Indians discovered the sweetness of the maple tree by eating "sapsicles," the icicles of frozen maple
sap that form from the end of a broken twig. As the ice forms, some of the water evaporates, leaving a sweet treat
hanging from the tree.
started to turn into spring, and the days got longer and warmer, the Native American Indians would move their whole
families into a spot in the forest where there were plentiful sugar maple trees. There they would establish "sugar
camps" for the month or so that the maple sap would flow. The most common early method of collecting this
sweet sap was to make V shaped slashes in the tree trunk, and collect the sap in a vessel of some sort. Not having
metal pots in which to boil the sap, the Native Americans boiled away the water from their sap by dropping hot
rocks in the containers made of hollowed out logs, of birch bark, or of clay.
From the journals
of early New England explorers we have learned that there were three types of maple sugar made by the Northeastern
American Indians: "Grain Sugar" a coarse granulated sugar similar to that we know as "brown sugar";
"Cake Sugar," sugar poured into wooden molds to become hard cakes or blocks; and "Wax Sugar,"
which was made by boiling syrup extra thick and pouring it over snow. This wax sugar is what we know today as "sugar
For another story about the origin of maple syrup, click on the tree
Print and color
your own maple leaves
Although refinements have been made in the methods
of sap collection and evaporation, the fundamentals of the processes involved have remained unchanged. During late
winter, temperature changes cause physical processes occur in the maples. Wounding the sapwood results in the flow
of sap that can be collected and processed.
Early settlers, both French and English, first followed
the practice of gashing maples to release the sap. The sap then was collected in wooden troughs placed on the ground.
These troughs were made of short, hollowed out sections of hardwood tree trunks. Soon, a way different from that
method used by Native Americans was introduced. It involved the use of an auger to make a smaller wound or taphole,
resulting in less damage to the tree. Primitive spouts, made by pushing the pith out of small stems of sumac or
elder, directed the sap into the container below . Eventually, metal spouts replaced the wooden ones. The metal
spout, as generally constructed, had the advantage of being a dual purpose device. It not only directed sap into
a container but also suspended the container in a stable position, off the ground, by means of a built-in hook
. The brace and bit (7/16") replaced the auger as the tapping tool.
For many years this technique continued as the
preferred tapping method. Eventually power tappers featuring small gasoline motors or motors powered by portable
storage batteries came into being. Motor-powered tappers are the rule today in larger operations, but smaller producers
still use the brace and bit.
Collecting sap from maple trees has progressed
from birch bark containers through wooden buckets and metal buckets (with covers) to the modern practice of using
Today, maple producers are a varied group. Some
are full-time, year-round operators who may combine seasonal syrup production and year-round syrup packing with
the manufacture and marketing of maple speciality items. Many other maple producers are part-time operators who
"sugar" as a hobby, to provide supplemental income, or to explore a more self-reliant, natural process
for producing their own sweetener.
To learn more about Sugaring and classroom activities, visit these sites:
Maple Sugaring and Technology
Welcome to Classroom
in the Sugarbush