It’s one of the few procedures that wasn’t brought to the USA by European settlers.
While there are many interesting and terrific stories about the origin of maple syrup, there are no authenticated accounts of how the process was discovered. Among the most popular legends involves a Native American chief who discovered that the clear liquid sap seeping from a tree he’d stuck his tomahawk into. The chief was so impressed with the sweet flavor of this maple meat he named it Sinzibudkwud which means”drawn from trees”. Native Americans still quite often use this word when referring to maple syrup.
Soon they found that cutting or (wounding) a maple tree in early spring caused it to ooze a sweet clear liquid that could be processed into a candy merchandise they found to be delicious. Most stories likely have been modified through time, but the discovery of maple syrup probably was accidental.
Over the years they learned they could gradually decrease the sap to syrup by repeatedly freezing it, discarding the ice, and saying over again. They can store up to 30 pounds of maple sugar in containers made from birch bark.
Finally some of the Native American tribes started to process the pine sap over fire. They left troughs where they collected the sap and brought it to the fire. The sap was heated with the addition of heated stones. Freshly heated stones would be added while eliminating older cooler stones to be reheated. Most ancient Native Americans preferred sugar over salt and used maple sugar or syrup on their meat and fish.
Early settlers imitated the Native American methods to produce their maple syrup. They would boil the sap within an open flame until it decreased down to syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, which was a labour intensive and time consuming operation. Not much changed for the next two hundred years, and then during the civil war that the tin can was invented. It wasn’t long before syrup makers discovered that a large flat sheet of metal could make a far more efficient pan to boil maple sap than the previously utilized heavy curved iron kettle.
Most original syrup makers were dairy farmers who made maple sugar and syrup for their own use, or a little additional income during the off season. They continually looked for a more efficient and quicker way to create their syrup. Many innovative ideas and processes evolved over time, but for the most part technology stayed the same for another century. In the 1960’s it was so labor intensive and time consuming it was no longer possible for farmers to sustain themselves. They could not afford to hire the lot of individuals required to tap the trees and haul the tiny buckets into the evaporator house.
Ultimately with all the energy crunch of the 1970’s another surge of technological discoveries occurred. Tubing systems were developed, and vacuum pumps inserted to draw the sap directly from the trees to the evaporator house. Pre-heaters were that”recycle” heat that formerly was lost were developed, and reverse-osmosis filters that eliminate a portion of the water out of the sap before it’s boiled were developed.