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Kitchen Histories: Maple Sugaring

Mar 23, 2013

by Sarah Lohman

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman will comb Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.

In 1872, Currier and Ives released a print called “Maple Sugaring.” The image depicts a wooded scene on a snowy, early spring day; a frontier family goes through the steps of making maple sugar, from tapping the trees to boiling the sap. The print never fails to remind me of my childhood in Ohio, where early spring always meant a pancake breakfast. But it also represents a new tradition: every spring, my mom and dad tap their own backyard maple trees.

WaterBetweenStones

Detail of Currier and Ive’s "Maple Sugaring" print.

Our maple syrup adventure started over beers and a bet. Although I can’t remember how this particular conversation started, by the end, I had challenged my friend Mark to live off only self-produced food for a week — foods that were hunted, fished, farmed or foraged. He lives in an urban suburb of Cleveland, but he has a backyard and  access to the infinite food resources Northeast Ohio provides. By the end of the night, we had involved his siblings, started a blog and set the rules.

My parents also got involved — reluctantly. They own three partially wooded acres in semi-rural Ohio, packed full of maple trees. Mark and I wanted to tap the trees so he could make his own maple syrup for the challenge. “It takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup,” my mother chided.

“Do you understand how much maple syrup a gallon is?” I pointed out. “There’s no minimum requirement — couldn’t we make, like, a quart?”

Chiot’s Run

Homemade maple syrup.

My parents eventually agreed, and over the summer, when the trees were in leaf, they marked the sugar maples with bright red ribbon, so they could find them again in the early spring. Although New England is more prominently recognized for its maple syrup, Ohio is part of the syrup belt that stretches from the Midwest to Canada: the only part of the world sugar maples grow, as well as other tapable maples like the silver maple. The sap of these trees has a high sugar content, ranging from 2-5%. When the sap is boiled, the water evaporates away to leave a thick, sweet syrup or, if boiled longer, crystallized maple sugar.

zippitydoodle

Vintage maple syrup tin from Geauga County, Ohio.

Maple syrup and maple sugar were historically very valuable as a “free” source of sugar to America’s earliest settlers. Cane sugar could not be grown in the North and was very expensive, as well as difficult to import to the frontier. Maple sugar, although extremely labor-intensive, came without cost from the indigenous maple trees. Thomas Jefferson believed the home-grown production of maple sugar could release us from our dependence on the slave-produced white sugar of the Caribbean. However,maple sugar was so common, its distinct flavor was considered a disadvantage, and inferior to white sugar. Even as recently as World War II, maple sugar was still recommended as a cheap and plentiful substitute for rare and rationed white sugar.

recyclingMadness

Photo of a sugar shack, circa 1910.

Symbols of maple sugar’s importance are easy to find all over Etsy; there are images of sugar shacks — the small house built for evaporating maple sugar — as well as sugar bushes, a grove of maple trees. The tools of the trade can still be found, including antiqued, but usable spiles, the metal or wood tube pounded into the tree when its “tapped,” allowing the sap to flow. Beautiful wood buckets can be also purchased; they’ve spent years hanging in silent woods, catching sap as the earth begins to warm.

SeaGlassPrimitives

Set of rare 1800s spiles for tapping maple trees.

You can also taste handmade sugar and syrup thanks to Etsy vendors. The costliest bottle of store-bought syrup has never been able to compare to the stuff that comes out of my parent’s back yard. The first year, the syrup was light golden and tasted like maple syrup that already had fatty butter stirred in. The next year, the syrup was darker and tasted of vanilla and green budding trees. The weather each year makes a different syrup, I personally love the syrup that comes from the trees late in the season: it’s darker, richer and more potent that the delicate, first-flow syrup.

Sarah Lohman

The Lohman family syrup on a homemade pancake.

In my New York apartment, I’ve been squirreling away a jar of last season’s syrup in my freezer. Poured over pancakes, the taste reminds me of my home, twenty years ago, and hundreds of miles away.

Editor’s note: For photos of maple sugaring at Sarah’s parents’ home, check out this post on her blog.

More Posts From Sarah

96 comments

  • valeriephoto

    Valerie from valeriestitchery said 5 years ago

    I remember seeing the taps in the trees when I was a kid in Michigan. God thing you talked your parents out of a gallon. That's a lot of maple syrup!

  • Fiume

    Erin O'Rourke from Aruguletta said 5 years ago

    I'm from Massachusetts, where maple sugar is being made all around me. I love to learn about these kinds of things. SO crazy to think maple syrup was once considered inferior to white sugar!!

  • ArtDecoDame

    Desiree from ArtDecoDame said 5 years ago

    Great story!And now I want pancakes!

  • KathrynPHaley

    Kate Haley from CopperSpineStudio said 5 years ago

    What a fun article! Definitely makes me crave some maple candy.

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 5 years ago

    Greatly interesting! I loved reading this and learning. What a gem of a article!

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 5 years ago

    Lovely article!

  • caravancaravan

    Yenny collins from caravancaravan said 5 years ago

    When I was a kid I went to a maple syrup farm in Quebec with my class from school , we ate so much frozen syrup I got sick! I still love it , though!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 5 years ago

    Wonderful story. Nothing like it on pancakes.

  • untamedrose

    Breanna from untamedrose said 5 years ago

    When i was little, like 7 we made maple sugar in an after school program. It was wonderful :D

  • UpcycledPetals

    Donnielle from UpcycledPetals said 5 years ago

    Now my mouth is watering. I love maple syrup and reading this post was fun and salivating. Haha Thanks for that. Now to find some waffels.

  • TheBadCatBeadery

    Gwen from TheBadCatBeadery said 5 years ago

    Loved this blog article. Maple syrup and butter are just one of the most glorious things to come from this beautiful earth. Thank you maple sugar trees!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 5 years ago

    Great!

  • jessgreenleaf

    Jess Greenleaf from GREENLEAFblueberry said 5 years ago

    I absolutely love these historical food posts. I've never tapped a tree for syrup but I've always wanted to! And now... I'm all of a sudden craving waffles...

  • thudrapac

    Eva from FluidMoon said 5 years ago

    I only tasted maple syrup last year when a friend from US sent us a bottle. I love it! It is so expensive here, that I can't really afford it just very rarely.

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Great story! Would love to smell the sweet maple air around me :)

  • christineshmisteen

    CHRISTINE SHMISTEEN from TheArtOfFinerThings said 5 years ago

    So tempting.

  • christineshmisteen

    CHRISTINE SHMISTEEN from TheArtOfFinerThings said 5 years ago

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/VermontMaple?ref=l2 Just last night I found myself in their shop (I don't know why... I was likely lured by the words "cheap shipping"); it was hard to shrug off a craving then, and it's harder with this article! (I don't know them, I seriously just found out about them before bed last night :P)

  • AtomicAttic

    Miles and Aimee Harrison from AtomicAttic said 5 years ago

    I'm Inspired!

  • PoshBinky

    Jennifer from PoshBinky said 5 years ago

    Love your feature! Congrats!

  • H88255

    H88255 from HillarysSuperfoods said 5 years ago

    This is so wonderful. Maple syrup is full of nutrients and actually good for you in small amounts. I use it from time to time in my recipes!

  • DeepSilence

    Sonja Bikić from DeepSilence said 5 years ago

    Interesting.

  • BemusingBaubles

    Sarah Laguna from BemusingBaubles said 5 years ago

    This makes me miss home-made maple syrup so much. Now I need waffles!

  • gardenmis

    Priscilla from Gardenmis said 5 years ago

    Fresh maple syrup is such a delicious treat! Loved this article and the reminder of childhood memories!

  • richardlithgow

    Richard Lithgow from RichardLithgow said 5 years ago

    Interesting story!!

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 5 years ago

    Interesting article! Love the maple syrup tin!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Lovely story! We tried it once and got enough for 1 breakfast!

  • Ellareki

    Ellareki from Ellareki said 5 years ago

    Living in the UK, all of this is totally alien to me but also totally fascinating - thanks for this really interesting article :)

  • ArtyDidact

    Sharon Parker from ArtyDidact said 5 years ago

    Yum! What an interesting and creative challenge you set for yourselves! I love maple syrup and buy a locally produced version from my co-op. I've never tried making my own, but several of our nature centers offer workshops and outings. I like to put a dash of it in my (plain) yogurt or in my oatmeal. Great post. Thanks!

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 5 years ago

    Interesting history and information!

  • mirabellamorello

    mirabellamorello from mirabellamorello said 5 years ago

    I love this! Here in Maine, we know that in spite of the snow still covering the ground, making us think that spring will never come, the maple trees, wearing their little taps and plastic buckets to catch the sap are a sure sign of spring!! Thank you so much for this lovely post!

  • Raceytay

    Raceytay from Raceytay said 5 years ago

    "Sugaring off parties" are among my most cherished memories of growing up just outside of Montreal. This took me back. Thank you

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 5 years ago

    In Michigan it wasn't uncommon to see buckets hanging from the trees. Reminds me of home.

  • mipe76

    Michela from LilyandFern said 5 years ago

    We love oldgatesfarm's maple syrup! :)

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome from rosebudshome said 5 years ago

    How great that a simple bet led to such a wonderful story.

  • minouette

    Ele from minouette said 5 years ago

    Quebec is the biggest maple syrup producer, of course, where the practice of producing syrup was introduced to settlers by indigenous people as early as Jacques Cartier. I'm pretty sure every Ontario or Quebec school kid got to visit a maple syrup farm at some point. I love the maple candy fresh poured in the snow, and maple butter too!

  • lifemeetsart

    Jolynn from lifemeetsart said 5 years ago

    Living in New England Pancake breakfasts at a real maple syrup farm are a staple tradition of spring. Spring has not sprung if I have not had a tower of pancakes with real maple syrup that I didn't see the tubs it was boiled down in and the oft tapped trees to prove it.

  • Millow584

    Millow584 from Millow584 said 5 years ago

    Living in Lanark County, Ontario - The Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario - waiting to get the call from my Grandparents that my Uncle has started boiling was always the first sign of spring. Can't wait for the first taste of this years liquid gold!!

  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage from WoodlandCottage said 5 years ago

    Yummy! We don't have maple syrup here in the South--we have to make do with sorghum molasses. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art, but a few stalwarts are keeping it alive, thank goodness. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  • Sabina82

    Sabina82 said 5 years ago

    I love maple syrup. None of that table syrup for me. My parents used to tap the maple in our backyard in SW Ontario to make our own. We'd also of course visit the close by sugar shack and have lots of maple syrup on snow. Yum yum yum.

  • AcrylicPixie

    AcrylicPixie from StitchingPixie said 5 years ago

    I like real maple syrup-----it has more character than "pancake syrup".

  • vanillavillain

    Vanilla Villain said 5 years ago

    Grear story, thx for information.

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 5 years ago

    I want pancake!!! This really makes me hungry for some!! Great story!

  • TheHickoryTree

    Linda from TheHickoryTree said 5 years ago

    Perfect timing, we just tapped our 10 Michigan Maple trees and the syrup is running. There is nothing more wonderful than homemade (handmade) maple syrup to sweeten up our waffles, french toast and pancakes. Great for baking too.

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 from breadandroses2 said 5 years ago

    Great post. Maple syrup is a wonder! Thanks for the good news from Ohio. Historic/living museum Hale Farm & Village has their last big maple sugaring event this weekend plus free pancakes w/ price of admission. Fun and a good deal.

  • kerryntaylor4

    Kerryn Taylor from TinkerTinkerTaylor said 5 years ago

    This is incredibly interesting! how trees make different tasting syrups depending on the seasons, like we are going through at the moment producing wine from our grapes! I have just finished cleaning up a big sticky mess in my pantry from the kids spilling (An expensive) bottle of maple syrup everywhere!! My house smells lovely though!

  • patspottery

    Pat Parker from PatsPottery said 5 years ago

    That was one of the most interesting stories I have read here:>) I really enjoyed the read!!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 5 years ago

    Awesome! I have always wanted to make syrup... Unfortunately all I have access to are willow trees...

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly said 5 years ago

    Oh, how we loooooove maple syrup in my family! We use it instead of sugar in lots of things. It was so wonderful to read all about the history and seeing the pics was fantastic. Thanks!

  • sorceress78

    Alison Burtt from DelightfullyModern said 5 years ago

    Super post! We went to a Maple Festival in Highland, Virginia this year and saw trees being tapped and syrup being boiled. It was neat and something totally different about Virginia that I never could have seen growing up in California. Also, I am going to start following your friend's blog. This idea is endlessly fascinating to me!

  • SpoonerZ

    SpoonerZ from SpoonerZ said 5 years ago

    In our house there are 2 kinds of syrup "crappy kids stuff" and "mmmmmaple syrup". The price is comparable to gold here in CA. It has medicinal qualities as well.

  • genisepark

    Genise Park from genisepark said 5 years ago

    I did not know that Ohio had maple trees! This whole article made me hungry for pancakes....I know what I am having tomorrow morning!

  • dot1234

    dot1234 from DonebyDot said 5 years ago

    I really liked the article, very interesting,,,Im from Utah and have never seen pictures like you posted , thank you for that... I remember one winter when I was small we made real maple sugar candy, it was so good, wish that I could get some of that candy today...dot

  • Tetsurohh

    J and Leigh from SKiNa9 said 5 years ago

    This was a great article. I absolutely love maple syrup and anything that can be eaten with it. I really aspire to do something as organic as this one day.

  • NaturesDesigns2010

    Rocky & Cindy Schlager from NaturesDesigns2010 said 5 years ago

    Great Story! We have a back yard evaporator and are in the middle of Maple Surging. We have tapped over 300 trees and awaiting the warm sun of spring to wake up them up. Sunday, March 24 is Maine Maple Syrup Sunday. Maple candy, ice cream drizzled with maple syrup, candied nuts, baked beans sweetened with maple syrup, pancakes with maple cream. the smell of the sap as it is boiling - I love going from sugar shack to sugar shack.

  • karenhemsinghaugen

    Karen Hemsing Haugen from KandTHsquared said 5 years ago

    How wonderful! I come from the SW, so the images of all these tapped trees is so beautiful and so foreign! Thanks for the lovely story, it makes me want to visit the NE and get some real, "fresh" maple syrup!

  • DeEscalaArt

    BEATRIZ DE ESCALA from DeEscalaArt said 5 years ago

    I'm Craving Pancakes now...Love the story.

  • picklehead

    Karina Pryor from picklehead said 5 years ago

    amazing, love this! once I switched to maple syrup I felt ashamed of so many years of using gross maple colored corn syrup on my pancakes. Never again!

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 5 years ago

    Lovely, I love the old classic way to get syrup.

  • KeepsakeDesignStudio

    Dee said 5 years ago

    Love the story - made me homesick. Maybe home is only as far away as that Ball jar of syrup tucked into the back corner of the fridge where the kids can't find it!!

  • sukran

    Sukran Kirtis from SukranKirtisJewelry said 5 years ago

    I need a pancake right now!!!

  • cloud9originals

    Marie from cloud9originals said 5 years ago

    Thank you for such an interesting feature. I think I am going to have to make pancakes for breakfast!

  • xqicc

    Phil Taylor from 0x123456x said 5 years ago

    mmm Pancakes!

  • hjmart

    helen from hjmArtGallery said 5 years ago

    How interesting! Thank you for the article!

  • studiotuesday

    david scheirer from studiotuesday said 5 years ago

    Those antique taps are so cool!

  • ulovejewelry

    Universal Love Jewelry from ULoveJewelry said 5 years ago

    I didn't know so much about maple..thanks

  • misschristiana

    Christiana Odum from YarnDarlin said 5 years ago

    Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing. You make me want to buy a maple forest and make my own syrup!

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 5 years ago

    Great story. Like someone said above, now I want pancakes!

  • CharmingShopLove

    Marissa Howes from CharmingShopLove said 5 years ago

    Wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • TheresasGourmet

    Theresa Ryales from TheresasGourmet said 5 years ago

    I Love maple syrup. Always wanted a maple tree! I'm with Patti now I want pancakes...

  • 6catsart

    Corinne Aelbers from 6catsart said 5 years ago

    Great article. It made me smile because I recently had a conversation with a neighbor who told me when she was a small child many, many years ago living in the Cariboo (part of western Canada) she picked sap off trees and chewed it. The local children were under the impression that it made their teeth whiter.

  • catsandscales

    Ciara Kay Barsotti from ScoutarooPaperCo said 5 years ago

    Love this story! My husband and I took a road trip for three months last Fall and our favorite spot was New England... we loved it so much that we applied to grad school there and will most likely be moving to Vermont this Summer! So this article especially warmed my heart. <3

  • AlliePeplinDesigns

    Allie Peplin from BittersweetPetite2 said 5 years ago

    Odd that this article came out today. I was craving some french toast and we were fresh out of maple syrup. So i went to the store and got some of the real stuff made right here in Ohio! I love local sweet stuff, especially syrup or honey!

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 5 years ago

    Loved reading this story! Thanks for sharing!

  • rebeccagoebel

    Rebecca Goebel from OctoberNative said 5 years ago

    This is such a fun post ... I am now so intrigued by the process of making sticky sap into delicious sugar :)) thanks for sharing!!

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 5 years ago

    Interesting read. It was nice to read the information about the history of maple syrup making.

  • divinecartomancy

    Bren from PsychicBren said 5 years ago

    MMMMMMM, Pancakes...... Very nice article, I love the history. Divine.

  • StayArtisan

    J.K. Ramirez from HudsonBlueArtisans said 5 years ago

    Sugar close to home, sweet...

  • thewittyraven

    Katina Jacobson from TheWittyRaven said 5 years ago

    Interesting article. We are buying a house on a large chunk of property here in Alaska, and I am so excited to try this out on the birch trees in our yard. It's crazy how much you need to make a gallon, but your right, a quart seems much more manageable!

  • GrasshopperHillFarm

    GrasshopperHillFarm from GrasshopperHillFarm said 5 years ago

    This is one of the things we're looking forward to once we have a few acres of our own. Right now, we buy local maple syrup from Eastern Market in Detroit, but I can't wait to make our own! We'd take care of a gallon of syrup pretty quickly! :-)

  • NellywithWings

    Nelly V from NellywithWings said 5 years ago

    It was a delight to read this article. As a recent Canadian, I deeply enjoy maple syrup. This year, we took our 5-year-old son to a maple festival at a local farm, and we all had the privilege of tasting the delicious sap for the first time. It was like liquid gold. We came home with a litre of farm-made syrup, and this is the only syrup my little one asks more of to be poured over his saturday pancakes.

  • sharpblonde

    Abigail said 5 years ago

    I just took part in my first tapping earlier this season in Cincinnati with the fine folks that produce Clough Valley Maple Syrup! Had a great time and can't wait to try to delicious finished product.

  • lauraprilltoo

    Laura Prill from lauraprilltoo said 5 years ago

    Mmm, lovely:)

  • LinaNstich

    Lina Rodogianni from LinaNstitch said 5 years ago

    You know what i need to stop reading the blog posts about anything food-related. It just makes me super-hungry!

  • FantasticaIdea

    Roberta from FantaIdea said 5 years ago

    That was really interesting!

  • AudreyKerchnerPhotog

    Aud Kerchner from AudreyKerchnerstudio said 5 years ago

    We have a " living farm" by where I live that does demonstrations every weekend on tradition methods of farming including tapping and making maple syrup. It's so different then the commercial distillers and interesting to see the older way of doing this. Very cool artical.

  • SHM2013

    Silvia from MarinaBosettiDesigns said 5 years ago

    I am sure that syrup tastes delicious! What a nice memory to share!

  • MrPimm

    Meghan P from BustinCaps said 5 years ago

    "is there sugar in Syrup? Then YES!" Cheers!

  • eshannon12

    Eric Shannon from BigBarkerDogBeds said 5 years ago

    Great story, thanks!

  • GraciesPlace40

    Linda Grace from GraciesPlace40 said 5 years ago

    Born and raised in New Hampshire sugaring was a natural part of our lives. One winter treat as children after a hefty snow storm was to cook down the maple syrup to a thicker consistency and then run outside with our bowls and gather fresh clean snow, run back inside where Mom or an older sibling would pour a small amount of the hot syrup over the snow. The result was a rich concentrated flavor of maple syrup the consistency of caramel. Pop it in your mouth and it was heaven. Sweet memories, thanks for bringing them back.

  • stepbackink

    Sam from stepbackink said 5 years ago

    I sell loads of maple syrup buckets and such, still used in Indiana, but yesterday I drove by a farm that had ugly plastic white buckets with see through rubber hoses attached to maple trees to collect the syrup ...and it looked like a chemical lap conducting an experiment. How I love the beauty and design of the old versus the new, which in few years will be discarded as trash. Beautiful article :)

  • knitsbycaitlin

    Caitlin Edge from knitsbycaitlin said 5 years ago

    I have maple syrup on my waffles daily. no joke.

  • heroux

    Caroline from ArtbyHeroux said 5 years ago

    Yummy:) One of my favorite childhood memories are going to the Sugar Cabins in spring and eating maple syrup rolled off the snow!

  • RenderedImpressions

    Cathy from RenderedImpressions said 5 years ago

    I haven't had pancakes in a long time and I would love some with homemade maple syrup! I really enjoyed the article and hearing about some of the history behind this lovely treat!

  • armadaantiques

    armadaantiques from ArmadaAntiques said 5 years ago

    Very interesting article, thank U.

  • Purana

    Purana from Purana said 2 years ago

    What a lovely blog Sarah! I just acquired 2 mini art prints of Currier and Ives maple sugaring scenes and my research brought me here. Thanks for some great info on the subject.... Loved reading and now I wanna dunk my fingers in some Maple Syrup and lick them up :)

  • Purana

    Purana from Purana said 2 years ago

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/485659477/currier-ives-art-prints-american?ref=shop_home_active_9 Here's a couple of Currier & Ives Maple Sugaring framed mini art prints listed for sale in my shop Purana

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