Maple or sugar trees provided sugar for early pioneers in the early 1800s. Log huts called Sugar Camps held either two big logs or a crude furnace of stones where they set iron kettles to boil sugar water.
The opportunity to chat with neighbors was part of the fun of making sugar. Neighborhood camps were usually built near each other to allow friends to socialize during the long process.
Pioneers used a gouge to tap trees in the winter. The ideal time for collecting sap varies with the part of the country, but was best when sunny days were above 40 degrees with frosty nights. A spile — a wooden peg used as a spigot — driven into the hole allowed sap to run into a wooden trough.
Gallons of collected sap boiled for hours. The process often continued all night. Children played while the sap boiled down.
Sap made a waxy form of sugar before it granulated and was often eaten in that way. The sap also made molasses.
Maple sugar and molasses, along with winter honey, sweetened pies and cakes in the days when families made most of their food.
Many areas still offer the experience of tapping trees, boiling sap, and tasting freshly-made maple syrup. Check for these opportunities in your area in the mid-winter.
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Maple Sugaring: Making Granulated Maple Sugar,” Back Yard Chickens 2015/06/10 http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/148932/maple-sugaring-making-granulated-maple-sugar.
“Frequently Asked Questions about Maple…,” Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company 2015/06/10 http://cedarvalemaple.com/faq.
Welker, Martin. 1830’s Farm Life in Central Ohio, Clapper’s Print, 2005.