The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY, is a living history museum that highlights rural and agricultural traditions of life in the mid-1800s. I travelled to Cooperstown from Manhattan for their event Sugaring-Off Sundays, which feature activities and demonstrations including livestock interaction, metalsmithing, printing, and more. The Sugaring-Off Sundays happen during sugaring season, when maple syrup is made. The short sugaring season happens as winter turns to spring, and I attended the last sugaring The Farmer’s Museum hosted of this year.
First, maple trees are tapped and the clear sap runs into buckets, like the traditional ones in the image above. While trees are always full of sap, the maple tree’s sap is only suitable for maple syrup during sugaring season.
The maple sap is clear and looks like water. It tastes mostly like water but there’s a hint of maple flavor.
There are many legends around the discovery of maple as a sweetener. The story I learned at The Farmer’s Museum was that an Algonquin Native American’s wife boiled meat with sap and saw the sap turn into sugar.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, because the sap must be boiled down into syrup. Today, maple syrup costs more than oil! This is a reversal of maple syrup’s position in the 1800s, when it was considered inferior to white cane sugar. Maple syrup (and molasses) were everyday sweeteners and white sugar was for company and special occasions.
Here is a traditional way of boiling down maple sap into syrup. Notice how the cauldrons become smaller and smaller as the liquid becomes more dense from water evaporating and sugar remaining.
Here is the final product, maple syrup.
This is the same pot after boiling for a while longer. On the sides of the pot, maple sugar is forming. Maple syrup turns into maple sugar when even more of the water content is boiled off. You can also make maple butter or maple cream from boiling maple syrup through another process. Cooking is a great hands-on way to learn basic science concepts!
The maple syrup was poured over fresh snow. Depending on what region you’re in, this is called maple taffy/sugar on snow/d’érable. In Cooperstown, they call this Jack Wax.
Maple syrup on snow is part of traditional culture in upstate New York, New England, and eastern parts of Canada.
I have wanted to experience maple sugaring and eat maple syrup on snow since I was a little girl – I need to reread Little House in the Big Woods!
Set up next to the first operation was this more modern evaporator pan. According to the fact sheet (below), this rig will produce one gallon of syrup at a time.
Sap become less clear and more brown.