Monday, December 17, 2012

LID: #FirstNations Create an American Legacy

Maple Sugar from Canada
By:Jan Smith

December 17

Maple Syrup Day

Get those pancakes, French bread and waffles ready. It's Maple Syrup Day!

I can be very picky about what maple syrup I serve on my table. Growing up in North Central Ohio I was raised on maple syrup that wasn't a national brand but came from the small farms in Ohio that tapped it. Maple syrup operations in Ohio? My homestate may not be on the east coast but it is one of the states that produces maple syrup. In fact it is the fourth leading state to produce maple syrup. You can learn more about Ohio maple syrup at

I also grow up in an area where there still is a large Amish population. I mainly grew up eating Amish maple syrup. You can take a tour of the Amish maple syrup production at

The making of maple syrup is an old American tradition that began with Native American on the east coast. It was a Native American food that was unknown to the Europeans until colonists came to the New World. The colonists were not familiar with maple sugar because the Sugar Maple only grows in Northeastern and North Central parts of the United States. Sugar Maples cannot grow where it reaches 100 degrees nor can they survive in below 0 tempuratures. It can grow to be 125 feet. The Sugar Maple is only one of the five types of maple trees that can be tapped for their sap. It is used the most because it creates the most flavorable sap. The Sugar Maple sap contains about 2% sugar but can produce up to 6%. The tree must be forty years old or twelve inches in diameter before it can be tapped. It can only be tapped for its sap three times.  During any given season, once the tree is tapped it can produce up to 10 gallons of sap but some trees have been known to give more than 70 gallons. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. This is why our maple syrup can be so expensive.

 Below is a video that shows how the Native American used the Sugar Maple sap.

Maple Sugar played an important part in 17th century Native American life. It was viewed as a source of nutrition and energy. No one knows how the Native American began to harvest the maple tree for its delicious sugary sap yet there are many legends. Some of those native legends can be found on the First People's website here:

Harvesting a maple tree for its sap can be done anytime of the year but the best time to do so is during late winter/early spring. This is because the optimal tempuratures to make the perfect sap run is 20s at night and  40's in the day. If the nights are too cold it will take the sap longer in the day to warm up. If daytime tempuratures reach above 40 the enzymes in the sap will change the consistency. Once the tempurature reaches 50 the sap will cease to run. The late winter/ early spring also creates pressure within the tree to help the sap run. The perfect season to tap a tree can range anywhere between 2 to 8 weeks but the norm tends to be 4 to 6 weeks. The season ends when the maple trees begin to sprout buds. If sap is collected from a tree that has already begun to sprout buds the taste of the sap will change from a maple flavor to a more "buddy" taste. After maple sap is collected it can be made into sugar, cream or syrup.

After the Native Americans taught the European settlers how to tap a maple tree and make maple sugar, European settlers adopted the the maple sugar as a sweetner for their food. Maple sugar was perferred by the colonists because sugar was too expensive to procure. Maple Sugar became as common as colonial households as table salt is to us today. 

The Native Americans not only made maple sugar but also maple syrup. This was usually done in a camp. When the maple sap was gathered it was carried back to the camp where they would placing the maple sap into clay pots. The pot were placed ontop of a simple fire with a roof made from branches used as a lid. The process of making maple syrup is time consuming. The Native Americans would had a feast in the camo while the maple sap was boiling. Native Americans traded their maple syrup with the settlers but were not so quick to share how they had made it. Eventually they shared their secrets with their new neighbors. In 1690, the first European to create maple syrup was a French missionary. In the 17th and 18th centuries, colonists were creating not only maple sugar but maple syrup as well. 

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