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Published on: Dec. 28, 2010

Each February, nearly 3,000 people come to Rockwoods Reservation to learn the art of making maple syrup. The staff has been busy tapping trees and hanging buckets, preparing for the upcoming sugaring season.

Bundled for the frigid temperatures, families and individuals head outdoors at Rockwoods to see and take part in making this sweet gift from the forest. Maple sugaring provides a connection to the past and revives a tradition and pastime.

Many people think of maple sugaring as something unique to the northeastern United States because forests in that region have a high concentration of sugar maple trees. While that is the largest source of maple syrup in the United States, syrup can be made wherever sugar maple trees are found.

As early as the 1860 census, Missouri recorded producing as much as 18,289 gallons of maple syrup. Although Missouri’s forests are typically composed of oak and hickory trees, sugar maples have always been present, and the tradition of making syrup has long been a pastime here.

Historic Treat

Before the pilgrims landed, Native Americans discovered how to collect sap and boil it down to make sugar—not syrup, as most people would conclude. There was no easy way to store liquids, but hardened, dry maple sugar was easily stored or transported for use later in the year.

After scouting an area for sugar maple trees, an entire tribe would set up a camp known as a “sugar camp,” and for the next six weeks set out to make sugar.

Native Americans, being resourceful people, learned to make the best use of these resources. To collect sap, they would make a “V” slash in the tree where sap would drip into bowls for collection. Evaporating the sap was the challenge, as they couldn’t set a bowl made from birch bark over a fire. To solve this dilemma, they learned to place rocks that were heated by the fire into the bowls to cook the sap. When the early colonists arrived, they learned this trade from the Native Americans and ventured to make their own. As more people arrived in the colonies, better resources ultimately changed how maple sugar was made.

Unlike the Native Americans, the colonists had access to metal equipment. This led to the creation of a three-kettle system in which sap could be boiled directly over a fire. They found that by using three kettles, sap could be processed

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