|It's hard to say who were the first people to make maple syrup. There were
many tribes of Native Americans who
would claim to be the first to produce this
sweet treat from the Sugar Maple Tree. We do know, however, it must have been
one of the northeastern woodland tribes like the great Iroquois Nation once
living near the present state of New York or the Shawnee who roamed here in the
|To say these tribes actually produced maple syrup
would be incorrect. Actually, they made maple sugar because it was much easier
to carry in their pouches and bags. There is one story explaining the early way
maple sugaring was discovered and it pretty much sums up the way it
probably went down.
A young warrior and his wife had gone on an early spring hunting trip deep into the heart of what would later become Ohio woods. They had set up camp within a dense grove of American Beech and Sugar Maples and had just began to settle down for the night. Before going to bed, one of the last things the young warrior did was to strike his tomahawk into a tree next to their wigwam.
The next morning when the couple awoke, the warrior gathered up his hunting tools including his tomahawk from the tree. Then he set out for a day's worth of hunting. His wife, on the other hand, stayed behind at the camp to finish some of her own work along with preparing the evening meal of venison stew.
Since she had no metal cooking pots, the wife had to cook the meal by using an age-old technique. She pulled out a hollowed wooden trough called a mokuk, placed some deer meat and vegetables within and looked around for a suitable source of water to fill up her mokuk. In the dense, dark Ohio woodland, water could be tough to find.
While she gazed around, she could not find a stream or creek, but she noticed plenty of water leaking from the tomahawk wound in the tree. Having nothing else to mix with her meat and vegetables, she added the water trickling from the tree into her mokuk. Since the woman could not place the mokuk on the fire, she spent the better part of the day heating fist-size stones, picking them up with a forked stick and tossing them into her make-shift pot full of stew. The warrior's wife knew from experience that if she kept the rocks hot enough, the dirt and ashes would not stick to the rock and thus, ruin her stew.
By the time her husband arrived back for their evening meal, the woman felt she had done something incredibly wrong. The water in her stew was the brown color of tree bark! However, since it would take another few hours to cook a new meal, the couple decided to eat the vile-looking, brown stew the wife had made.
But much to their surprise and upon taking their first bite, the stew was not horrible at all. It was one of the sweetest tasting meals both had ever tasted! It did not take the warrior and his wife long to realize it was the sap from the maple tree creating the brown colored treat and although the tools of the trade have changed, the process of maple sugaring is still used today.
And the Native Americans didn't keep this delicacy to themselves. It was shared with others. One quick taste and it didn't take long for the settlers to fall in love with maple sugar. The settlers were the first, however, to refine the process by using wooden spiles tapped into the trees. The settlers also utilized horse-drawn carts and wooden kegs to collect the sap. They then boiled watered-down sap in iron kettles to steam away the extra water, leaving only a thick, brown syrup.
Even with all these advancements, the settlers still stayed four to six weeks at their temporary sugar camps (called the sugar bush) producing their maple syrup. This early sweetener was so important, even George Washington had an extensive maple farm with over 3000 taps each! Thomas Jefferson once mentioned to the Continental Congress that the Colonies must stop relying on the over-taxed 'slave sugar' shipped in from the sugar cane fields and every American with a woodlot in their back yard could do their part by producing maple sugar.
Although the settlers were the first to fine-tune the art of syrup making, they still made large amounts of sugar and candy often served in tiny maple cones. The tools of the trade have been changed, altered and improved upon in the last couple hundred years. But the basic technique remains the same. The sap is taken from the tree, boiled to remove the excess water and then enjoyed by all who eat it.
A little bit about the Hocking Hills. .
Not far from Hocking Hills Maple Farm's little sugar shack, the gently rolling wooded hills give way to unusual sandstone recess caves, rugged cliff sides and dense pockets of hemlock forests. Cascading waterfalls spill over into the dark crevices and at night, the sky fills with an astronomical delight of brilliant starlight. If you like to hike, horseback ride, canoe or rock climb, it's a great place to visit. Cabins, cottages and inn rooms dot the countryside. There are antique shops, golf courses and outdoor dramas close by. On the second weekend of March, Hocking Hills State Park celebrates Maple Sugaring in the Hills. Celebrate the season with tours and samples at the park!
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