Lesson #116: The History of Maple Syrup

It turns out that the history of maple syrup is pretty interesting, so we’re just going to keep on the maple syrup theme for one more day.*

There is no precise date for the discovery (invention?) of maple syrup, Iroquois legend holds that the discovery of maple sugar was purely accidental (all the best things are!)** Early settlers in Canada reported as early as 1685 that the Native population in the northeast were making it. A 1685 paper given at the Royal British Society noted, “the Savages of Canada, in the time that the sap rises, in the Maple, make an incision in the Tree, by which it runs out; and after they have evaporated eight pounds of the liquor, there remains one pound as sweet ….”

The native tribes used birch bark buckets to collect the sap from the trees which had been slashed in a V-shape and then fitted with hollowed out reeds to act as taps. Once this process was complete, hollowed out trees were used to boil the sap down, most of it all the way down to maple sugar because the sugar doesn’t spoil. The syrup would be consumed as a drink and the sugar would be used for cooking.***

Some historians argue that the process by which maple sap is extracted and boiled down into sugar was too technologically advanced for the native populations at the time and they could not possibly have been responsible for the discovery, but I’m inclined to believe in the evidence academia presents. If the British settlers at the time were reporting that the First Canadians were doing this, it’s likely that happened. The British weren’t exactly known for not taking credit for things.

*I told you I love maple syrup.

Autobiographical note: The spring I lived in a certain European Capital, my parents came to visit for my birthday and brought with them a bottle of maple syrup. One of the English guys I ran with was more excited about this than any one person should be over a condiment. I will not write his exact words, hilarious though they were, especially coming from his mouth, but I will say that his adoration for maple syrup may have touched on the sexual gratification of heavenly creatures.

**Interestingly, the only information I can find on the native term for maple syrup is Algonquin…sinzibuckwud, which means “drawn from the wood.”

***To read more, see here and here.

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