Friday, August 19, 2011

Maple Sugar Production

One hundred years ago Josiah Morrow, a history columnist for the Western Star, a Cox newspaper, wrote, in April 7, 1910, about the importance of sugar maple trees. The trees provided a ready and cheap source of sweetener.

According to Morrow, the Indians made maple sugar long before white settlers came to the area. There were many such trees in Wayne Township on both sides of the Little Miami River. Morrow says an old Indian sugar camp was found in the area in 1787. He quotes George T. O’Neall as saying the Indians were still making yearly trips there as late as 1804 or 1805.

In 1922 Elmer Keever wrote memories from his youth, included were details of making sugar on his family farm near the village of Lytle in Warren County. The farm had 175 sugar maples. They had a sugar house where maple sap was boiled down into syrup or cooked until it became thick and granulated and made a light yellow colored sugar.

He explained the process started “after the old frost of winter was mostly out of the ground” and that this could be any time from January to early April. His family prepared throughout the fall by collecting and storing fire wood in a shed near the sugar house.

Foot long spikes called spiles were made from the stalk of the elderberry tree. A 5/8 inch auger hole was drilled into the south side of a maple tree, about 1 ½ ft. above the ground. A hatchet or mallet was used to drive the spiles into the holes. Earthenware crocks were placed under the spiles to catch the sap.

The sap was gathered, placed in barrels, and transported on sleds to the sugar house. The fresh sap was first placed in a large cistern or reservoir near the sugar furnace, a long covered limestone lined trench. Large logs were shoved in the mouth of the furnace and then it was closed by a sheet iron door.

A sheet iron pan was over the top of the furnace and went back to a chimney. Near the chimney were two large iron kettles.

Sap was poured from the cistern to the pan of the furnace where it was heated. After some evaporation occurred, the fluid was dipped into the forward kettle. Following more evaporation the liquid was moved into the rear kettle and cooked until it became syrup or sugar.

The labor involved was intensive but the settlers knew how to make it enjoyable. Irvina Dearth wrote in her “History of Red Lion Warren County, Ohio” that there were large groves of sugar maples in the area of Red Lion and she remarks “The young folks delighted in the sugar parties which took place during this season. A cup of syrup right from the kettle to the snow to cool and harden was a real treat and taffy pullings were a favorite pastime.”

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