Celebrating the history of maple syrup

Events and resources from MSU Extension and the Michigan Maple Syrup Association

Photo credit: Maddie Curley, MSU

Photo credit: Maddie Curley, MSU

According to the University of Vermont, the collection of maple sap to make maple syrup began long before Europeans settled in America. Although there are no written accounts to verify exactly when it was discovered, several Native American legends share a similar story.

According to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, the Chippewa and Ottawa tribes of Michigan share a legend that begins with a god named NenawBozhoo, who saw that his people were becoming lazy as they drank the pure maple syrup from the maple trees rather than hunt or forage for food. When he saw this he cast a spell on the maple trees that made the syrup turn into a watery sap that required processing before it could be consumed.

While this may just be a legend, we do have accounts of how early Native Americans processed maple sap. To get maple sugar, Native Americans put the sap in wide, shallow bark vessels and left it out to freeze. This would separate the water from the sugar, and they would then remove the ice. As time went on, new and improved ways to process maple sugar emerged. Native Americans started building “sugar bushes” where they would boil the sap with hot stones. When European settlers arrived, they boiled sap over an open fire to make syrup.

Today, maple syrup harvesters use tubing that allows the sap to flow from the tree into the “sugar shack” or building where it’s boiled into syrup. Though the production methods have evolved, the rich and delicious flavor of maple syrup has remained a constant throughout history. Michigan State University Extension has a vast amount of information on how to select, store, and cook with Michigan maple syrup, plus how to tap your own maple trees.

Michigan’s large maple tree population makes it a great place to make and consume maple syrup. Over the spring months, Michigan has the following designated maple syrup weekends:

  • Southern Michigan: March 18 - 19
  • Northern Michigan: March 25 - 26
  • U.P.:  April 1 - 2

During these weekends, you can learn about all making maple syrup, how it’s harvested and many different maple products. More information on the events and specific locations near you can be found on the Michigan Maple Syrup Association’s website.

Michigan also has great festivals to celebrate our maple syrup market. The Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival is located just southwest of Lansing and the Sheperd Maple Syrup Festival is located just off of US 127, between Alma and Mount Pleasant. These festivals have something for everyone including parades, pancake breakfasts and vendors that sell a huge variety of maple syrup products. Don’t miss out on this tasty part of Michigan agriculture! 

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