Monday, January 27, 2014

A Sappy Story: The History of Maple Syrup in Chemung County

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I grew up in maple syrup country (no, not Vermont- but, the Catskills have a lot of it, too), so I’ve always been a fan of the stuff.  None of that fake butter-flavored nonsense for me- sacrilege!  This is why when the fine folks at Tanglewood Nature Center asked us to put together a small history of maple syrup exhibit for their pancake breakfast, I jumped at the chance.  As it turns out, we have a lot of syrup/breakfast items in our collections!  Enjoy and try not to get too hungry reading this.
Syrup pitcher, circa 1845

The history of maple syrup and sugar making dates back to early Native American history.  According to one Iroquois legend, a hunter accidentally discovered the syrup when he accidentally boiled in his cooking pot some sap from a broken maple branch. Early European settlers in the Northeast used wood spouts to tap maple trees.  The sap would collect in wooden buckets.  When boiled over a wood fire, the sap turned into maple sugar or syrup.  The maple sugar was a good alternative sweetener for those who could not afford to purchase cane sugar.  By the mid-1800s, maple syrup production increased as the technology changed.  Metal spouts and evaporator pans made maple syrup making more efficient.   

Wooden sap bucket

Sap trough and spill used by Nelson Rosekrans of Erin, NY


Sap spout, circa 1860s

S.B. Rogers and Son was a local maple syrup producer and dealer in the early 20th century.  In 1917, they were fined $25 by the United States Department of Agriculture for misrepresenting the weight of their ½ gallon cans of syrup. 

Receipt from S.B. Rogers, 1908

During World War I, sugar was rationed.  However, an article in the Elmira Telegram proposed a suitable solution: maple sugar.  Maple production had fallen out of fashion as cane and beet sugars became more readily available and affordable throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  Yet, as the war raged on, people realized that a return to maple sugaring could provide sugar for the home front, thus freeing the easily shippable cane and beet sugars to be sent to the troops.  Producing maple syrup became a patriotic duty!
Metal sap bucket

No discussion of maple syrup is complete without talking about what you put it on: pancakes and waffles.  Enjoy a look at some of the griddles and waffle makers in our collections.

Early waffle iron

Pancake griddle
Stovetop waffle maker

Early electric waffle maker

1 comment:

  1. A historical topic with which almost anyone can identify. Thanks.