Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 11, 2000 - Issue 05

by Vicki from various sources

Native Americans were the first to discover 'sinzibuckwud', the Algonquin word for maple syrup,
meaning literally 'drawn from wood'.

The Native American Indians had been making sugar from the sweet sap of the maple tree for many years. From the journals of early explorers we know that the Native American Indians had a process for making maple sugar as early as 1609. There are many Indian legends about how maple sugar was first discovered. One Iroquois legend tells how one man had thrown his axe into a maple tree one late winter evening. After he removed it the following morning, the weather turned sunny and warm. Sap began to flow from the cut in the tree, and drip down into a container which was at the base of the tree.His wife used the sap to boil the meat for dinner. As the water in the sap boiled away, a wonderful, sweet maple taste was left with the meat.

Most likely the Indians discovered the sweetness of the maple tree by eating "sapsicles," the icicles of frozen maple sap that form from the end of a broken twig. As the ice forms, some of the water evaporates, leaving a sweet treat hanging from the tree.

As winter started to turn into spring, and the days got longer and warmer, the Native American Indians would move their whole families into a spot in the forest where there were plentiful sugar maple trees. There they would establish "sugar camps" for the month or so that the maple sap would flow. The most common early method of collecting this sweet sap was to make V shaped slashes in the tree trunk, and collect the sap in a vessel of some sort. Not having metal pots in which to boil the sap, the Native Americans boiled away the water from their sap by dropping hot rocks in the containers made of hollowed out logs, of birch bark, or of clay.

From the journals of early New England explorers we have learned that there were three types of maple sugar made by the Northeastern American Indians: "Grain Sugar" a coarse granulated sugar similar to that we know as "brown sugar"; "Cake Sugar," sugar poured into wooden molds to become hard cakes or blocks; and "Wax Sugar," which was made by boiling syrup extra thick and pouring it over snow. This wax sugar is what we know today as "sugar on snow."

For another story about the origin of maple syrup, click on the tree

Print and color your own maple leaves

Although refinements have been made in the methods of sap collection and evaporation, the fundamentals of the processes involved have remained unchanged. During late winter, temperature changes cause physical processes occur in the maples. Wounding the sapwood results in the flow of sap that can be collected and processed.

Early settlers, both French and English, first followed the practice of gashing maples to release the sap. The sap then was collected in wooden troughs placed on the ground. These troughs were made of short, hollowed out sections of hardwood tree trunks. Soon, a way different from that method used by Native Americans was introduced. It involved the use of an auger to make a smaller wound or taphole, resulting in less damage to the tree. Primitive spouts, made by pushing the pith out of small stems of sumac or elder, directed the sap into the container below . Eventually, metal spouts replaced the wooden ones. The metal spout, as generally constructed, had the advantage of being a dual purpose device. It not only directed sap into a container but also suspended the container in a stable position, off the ground, by means of a built-in hook . The brace and bit (7/16") replaced the auger as the tapping tool.

For many years this technique continued as the preferred tapping method. Eventually power tappers featuring small gasoline motors or motors powered by portable storage batteries came into being. Motor-powered tappers are the rule today in larger operations, but smaller producers still use the brace and bit.

Collecting sap from maple trees has progressed from birch bark containers through wooden buckets and metal buckets (with covers) to the modern practice of using plastic tubing.

Today, maple producers are a varied group. Some are full-time, year-round operators who may combine seasonal syrup production and year-round syrup packing with the manufacture and marketing of maple speciality items. Many other maple producers are part-time operators who "sugar" as a hobby, to provide supplemental income, or to explore a more self-reliant, natural process for producing their own sweetener.

To learn more about Sugaring and classroom activities, visit these sites:
Maple Sugaring and Technology

Welcome to Classroom in the Sugarbush

Maple Treats

Jack Wax-The Iroquois froze maple syrup in the snow to make "snow candy." (sugar on snow)

Jack Wax is one of the universal traditions of Sugaring Off. This instant maple confection is made by dropping hot syrup from the kettle onto well packed snow in "bite-sized" pools. These delicious, waxy treats are popped immediately into the mouth.
Snow Food
Maple-coated popcorn was called "snow food." It is said that the Pilgrims were amazed during their first Thanksgiving when Native Americans dramatically popped popcorn over a blazing fire for them.

1 tablespoon vegetable margarine or butter
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup broken pecans
8 cups popped popcorn
Cooking spray

  • Lightly spray a large shallow pan and spread with popcorn and pecans.
  • In a medicum saucepan, combine butter, syrup, and salt. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 260° (the hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.
  • Pour hot syrup in a thin stream over popcorn and nuts, and toss gently to coat. When cool, break into pieces.

Makes 8 cups.

Maple gingerbread

2-1/3 cups flour, sifted Sift together flour, soda, ginger and salt. Set aside.
1 teaspoon baking soda In a separate bowl, beat the egg vigorously, then stir in maple syrup, sour cream and butter.
1-1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger Mix in the flour combination and pour into a greased flat pan.
1/2 teaspoon salt Bake for 30 minutes at 350 or until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
1 egg  
1 cup maple syrup Maple frosting is a tasty option.
1 cup sour cream  
4 tablespoons melted butter  

Corn Maple Pudding

500 mL (2 cups) corn flour or fine cornmeal

15 mL (1 tbsp) baking powder

250 mL (1 cup) dried currants

125 mL ({ cup) butter or shortening, softened

160 mL (2/3 cup) maple syrup

Stewed apples or applesauce
Using a large mixing bowl, mix corn flour with baking powder and currants. Stir in butter and maple syrup, mixing until a dough is formed. Shape into a ball, wrap in a clean cotton cloth and tie firmly with string. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, set steamer or colander over it and set pudding over simmering water. Steam, covered, for about three hours. Serve hot with stewed apples. Serves 8.

Maple Milk Shake

1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Cups Milk
1 Pint Vanilla Ice Cream softened

In large bowl, beat all ingredients until well combined. Serve at once in glasses. Makes 4.

Maple Glazed Chicken Wings

1 Kg (2 1/2 lb.) Chicken Wings
125 ml (4 fl. oz.) Pure Maple Syrup
80 (ml(5 tbs.) Chili Sauce
1 Small Onion - chopped
30 ml (2 tbs.) Cider Vinegar
15 ml (1 tbs.) Mustard
5 ml (1 tsp.) Worcestershire Sauce
Combine the Pure Maple Syrup, chili sauce, onion, cider vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in a shallow dish. Marinate the chicken wings for a minimum of 4 hours in the refrigerator, keeping covered and turning occasionally. Grill, oven bake or barbecue the chicken wings until thoroughly cooked, basting occasionally. As an alternative, chicken drumsticks are equally delicious. Serves 4

Did you know??

One tablespoon of Maple Syrup has only 40 calories! (Honey has 64. Brown Sugar 51, Corn Syrup 60)
Maple Syrup contains Manganese, Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamins B1, B2, B6, Niacin, Iron, and Calcium equal to Milk...

Additional Hints:

    • Replace brown sugar in recipes with Maple Sugar (e.g. grated Maple Sugar Leaves).
    • Replace honey in recipes with Maple Syrup.
    • Drizzle Maple Syrup over ice cream, yogurt, cheesecake, or any sweet treat.
    • Use thick sliced Raisin Bread when making French Toast. Raisins & Maple Syrup make a tasty combination

Bonus Story:Manabozho and the Maple Trees
Anishinabe-Great Lakes Region

A very long time ago, when the world was new, Gitchee Manitou made things so that life was very easy for the people. There was plenty of game and the weather was always good and the maple trees were filled with thick sweet syrup. Whenever anyone wanted to get maple syrup from the trees, all they had to do was break off a twig and collect it as it dripped out.

One day, Manabozho went walking around. "I thik I'll go see how my friend the Anishinabe are doing," he said. So, he went to a village of Indian people. But, there was no one around. So, Manbozho looked for the people. They were not fishing in the streams or the lake. They were not working in the fields hoeing their crops. They were not gathering berries. Finally, he found them. They were in the grove of maple trees near the village. They were just lying on their backs with their mouths open, letting maple syrup drip into their mouths.

"This will NOT do!" Manabozho said. "My people are all going to be fat and lazy if they keep on living this way."

So, Manabozho went down to the river. He took with him a big basket he had made of birch bark. With this basket, he brought back many buckets of water. He went to the top of the maple trees and poured water in, so that it thinned out the syrup. Now, thick maple syrup no longer dripped out of the broken twigs. Now what came out was thin and watery and just barely sweet to the taste.

"This is how it will be from now on," Manabozho said. "No longer will syrup drip from the maple trees. Now there will only be this watery sap. When people want to make maple syrup they will have to gather many buckets full of the sap in a birch bark basket like mine. They will have to gather wood and make fires so they can heat stones to drop into the baskets. They will have to boil the water with the heated stones for a long time to make even a little maple syrup. Then my people will no longer grow fat and lazy. Then they will appreciate this maple syrup Gitchee Manitou made available to them. Not only that, this sap will drip only from the trees at a certain time of the year. Then it will not keep people from hunting and fishing and gathering and hoeing in the fields. This is how it is going to be," Manabozho said.

And, that is how it is to this day.

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