Early sugaring history

Maple trees provided the sweetener of choice in New France and New England.

The settlers learned from the native people of the area. The Abenaki first learned to make a syrup-like substance by tapping the trees in late winter and early spring. For the Abenaki, maple trees produced a natural sweetener. Some native groups used maple sap to replace water for cooking in special ceremonies.

The early settlers to New France used sap from the maple trees to make sugar as well as syrup. Keep boiling the sap past the syrup stage and it turns to sugar. Maple sugar was abandoned when cheaper cane sugar from the Caribbean became widely available in the 18th century. The sugar plantations of Barbados, Jamaica and Martinique were built on slavery; sugar and syrup from the maple forest was produced by farmers in the spring as they waited for planting season.

Farmers traditionally made maple syrup to provide some cash to buy seeds in the spring. They collected sap in buckets and boiled it using wood from old trees and dead branches from the forest floor. They soon learned to look after their sugar bush as carefully as they cultivated a hay field. Once every farm with a maple bush made syrup for sale or use at home.

Read also: The Sap Is Flowing