27 February 2012

Sugar Maple Trees


Collecting Maple Sap in 1906  (photo link for historical information)

If the farmer wish to save his sugar-maple trees he ought not to tap them in the common way; but, instead of this, bore a hole two or three inches into the tree, out of which the sap can be drawn; and plug it up after the sap has done running. Cleanliness should be observed in the vessels in which the sap is gathered. Old troughs which have lain for years exposed to the weather, are improper receptacles for the sap if regard be had to the cleanliness of the sugar, and of course to its value. Some make use of vessels in the form of pails, which they keep for the purpose, and this is certainly at least more cleanly. The vessels can be laid up every year. after the time of using them is past, and be preserved many years. In clearing pasture lands which abound with sugar-maple, it would be well to preserve these trees, as they do no injury to the pasture; but the difficulty is, that as soon as they become more exposed to the winds they are blown down. But let all the small maples in such grounds be left, and in a few years these will grow up to sufficient strength of root to withstand the winds, and become an article of profit, as well as ornamental to the farm. They may also be very easily be dug up while young,and transplanted into such pastures. This is a piece of economy which the farmer would do well to observe, if he wish his farm to yield due supplies of sugar, when the article shall have become scarcer.

This picture would probably be from the early 1900s. Long after today's excerpt (it's real hard to find photographs from 1825)

Twenty trees to an acre would do little or no injury to the pasture; and ten acres of such a maple orchard would, in a few years, yield no inconsiderable quantity of sugar. By boring the trees as before directed, no essential injury is done to them; so that they might be increasing in growth for fifty years, or perhaps twice that length of time.

Collecting Maple Sap in 1893: (photo link, with historical information) Note the shoulder yoke being used to carry buckets of sap. Such yokes were an important tool on farmsteads of the 1800s, before electricity and engines arrived on the scene.

The sugar may be grained, by pouring it out, when boiled down to a proper consistency, into flat pans made for the purpose, and gently stirring it while it is cooling; or it may be done in the vessel in which the sap is boiled, if it be not too large for the purpose. To render it drier and whiter, it may be put into a screw-press, and there severely pressed; by this operation the molasses is forced out, leaving the remainder almost as white as lump sugar. The molasses may again be boiled down, and converted into sugar as before, or it may be kept for use as it is.
[Maine Farmer's Almanac]

Stirring Maple Sugar in a Wooden Trough: Wagner's Maple Sugar Camp, located in southern Somerset County, Pennsylvania, was purchased in 1882 by William Wagner, great grandfather of the present owner. Appreciating the stand of many maple sugars on his land, William started the sugar camp. Many of those original sugar maples remain and some are over 200 years old. Being a cooper (craftsman) by trade, William made wooden spiles, keelers (wooden buckets), hauling casks, storage tanks, sugar troughs, sugar molds, sugar storage chests, shipping crates and barrels, mauls, paddles, and many other items used in the production of maple syrup. His handmade kettle crane (in the picture above) for lifting the iron kettles of syrup off the fire still remains in the original camp.


365 days a year, I start my mornings with maple syrup. It is my custom to have a single cup of coffee each morning, and I sweeten it with maple syrup. I also have maple syrup on my almost-daily bowl of oatmeal. Have you ever had homemade whipped cream made with maple syrup (instead of sugar) on fresh-picked strawberries? It's divine. Sometimes I just sip maple syrup from the canning jars we store it in. Oh yeah, I love homemade maple syrup!


This is the time of the year that my family is either making maple syrup or getting ready to do so. But we made so much last year, and I am so busy this year with other projects, that we have decided to wait until next year to replenish our supply. If you would like to see and learn about our low-tech backyard maple syrup operation, Start With This Essay.


What I find so endearing about today's 1825 essay it the idea of planting maple trees in a pasture with the intention of one day, in the future, tapping them to make maple sugar and syrup. As today's excerpt indicates, the old-timers were multi-generational thinkers. It would be decades before a maple tree planted this year would be ready for tapping.


Finally.... I found an actual  photograph from 1825!

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David Veale said...

We're making our own syrup here in Michigan right now as well. It makes *the best* lemonade you'll ever taste, as it mellows the lemon to make it incredibly smooth.

Bonnets and Boots said...

Great post. We have a dream of tapping our own maple trees (or any maple trees!) one day. Never thought to use maple syrup in lemonade. Can't wait to try it.

Scott Roth said...

Don't forget a very valuable resource...The Maple Sugar Book from Scott and Helen Nearing. Great website...lots of great information. Keep up the great work.