Welcome to the Sugar Bush!
The early settlers learned from the native people that the boiled sap from the sugar maple (acer saccharum) tree made a delicious sweet syrup. The Sugar Moon (or Maple Moon), the first full moon in March or even April was the time to slash a notch in the tree and gather the sap in bark containers. They dropped fire-heated rocks into the sap in hollowed out logs. Later (mostly the women) boiled the sap in large pots hanging over an open fire. The sap flows when the temperature is below freezing in the night and above freezing in daytime. Continual boiling and stirring the syrup produced maple sugar which could be used for bartering as imported sugar from the West Indies was too expensive.
Later the “sugaring off” season was an important family ritual. The children would help to gather the sap from the buckets hanging on the spiles driven into the trees and horses would pull a sleigh with a container to haul the sap to the shanty where it was boiled on open flat pans under shelter. Of course this was thirsty work, so it was tempting to drink the sparkling sap – hopefully in moderation!
“My boyish enjoyment was complete
And once a year my face was sweet!
But woe to him who takes no care,
And lets his taste become his snare!
‘Twere well if Eve had tasted less.
And so with me, I must confess.
Eve, I suppose, grew sick at heart,
But I ached in another part!”
Technological advances such as modern permanent pipelines instead of buckets, and health spiles keep the sap pure and trees healthy. Vacuum systems, reverse osmosis and steam or oil powered evaporators increase efficiency. Still, mostly syrup making is a family affair with everyone helping with everything from bottling to selling.