Maple syrup, that sweet nectar of the trees, has long been a breakfast tradition, especially in New England. Even before folks poured the amber liquid over our pancakes and waffles, however, they were using maple syrup and maple sugar to sweeten their food.
Legend has it that Native Americans discovered the sugar maple’s sweet secret when sap dripped from a tomahawk gash into a bucket below. The liquid in the bucket was used to cook venison, which tasted sweetly delicious. Native Americans began collecting sap in hollowed-out logs and using stones heated in a fire to boil the liquid down to sugar form, which would not spoil and was easily transported.
When European settlers arrived in North America, the Natives shared with them the secret of the sugar maples. Settlers added their own twists to sugaring over time, using wooden spouts and buckets to collect sap and boiling it down in large metal kettles. Maple sugar became an important staple for early New Englanders, and the process of turning sap into sugar – and maple syrup – evolved again and again.
Today’s process is considerably changed from the early methods. Vacuum pumps, sugar houses, and large evaporators have eased some of the hardest work of sugaring. The end result is just as sweet.
The museum at the N.H. Maple Experience tells the story with hands-on demonstrations and sugaring artifacts.