Sweet, sticky, and beloved, maple syrup is a favorite North American creation. It’s found its way onto waffles and into recipes, and real maple syrup has made a resurgence as people have opted to avoid processed foods. With maple syrup season nearly upon us, we’re diving into the favorite treat with history, fun facts, and more. Join us on a maple adventure!
Maple Syrup: A Brief History
Who first had the idea to collect and cook the liquid from maple trees? The earliest records come from Native Americans. It is unclear which tribe discovered maple syrup, but many legends exist around the sweet liquid. Most common is that a god, usually Prince Glooskap, Kokomi, or NenawBozhoo, found his people drinking maple syrup instead of working. As punishment, the god cast a spell to dilute the syrup with water and made the resulting sap flow only in spring.
However maple sap originated, Native Americans harvested it by tapping trees with a wedge in spring. The sap would collect in a basket at the base of the tree and would then be boiled until it became syrup. The sweet liquid then served as a high-calorie winter food, perfect for an energy boost.
When the European colonists arrived, the technique for producing maple syrup was shared with them by the Native Americans. But instead of using wedges, the colonists drilled holes with augers and inserted wooden spouts with hanging buckets. This more efficient method increased the availability of maple sap and syrup became a major business in northern climates.
Making Maple Syrup
Maple sap doesn’t become maple syrup without a lot of effort. In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. You must boil sap for a very long time until enough water is reduced to make maple syrup. Even after, most producers then filter the sap extensively to reduce clouding and impurities.
In the early days of syrup making, the sap was hauled to a sugar shack and boiled in a large kettle over a fire. But around 1850, flat bottom pans became available and evaporators with wide, shallow pans were created. These drastically reduced the cooking time, making syrup more commercially available.
Today, many modern technologies have improved syrup making further. Plastic bags are used to collect sap rather than buckets. And large producers often create tubing networks that automatically transfer the sap from the tree to large holding tanks. They are then filtered through a reverse osmosis process before being boiled. While more efficient, the process is still quite similar to the original method.
Maple sap is most often converted to syrup, but it can also be used to create maple sugar. Candies made of maple sugar are a delicious treat often found at farmer’s markets in northern climates. But maple sugar, if processed correctly, can also be used in a similar manner to brown sugar.
Maple syrup can also be used in many ways. While it’s best known as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and French toast, it’s an important ingredient in many recipes. You’ll find it in everything from smoothies to stir fry to granola bars. It’s also great drizzled on oatmeal or plain cereals for a touch of sweetness.
Several of our resorts sit right in prime maple syrup country. Next time you’re at a resort in Ontario, Maine, Michigan, or another northern state, try searching for syrup at a local farmer’s market. And if you know someone else who might geek out on maple facts, share this post with them!