A Brief History and Folklore of Syrup

As you stare into a rich-golden bottle of syrup, do you ever find yourself wondering, how on earth did someone figure out how to make syrup? It’s much like asking the question of who was the first person to discover milk was a consumable substance, and could be obtained by squeezing on the udders of a cow. I’m sure we’ve all heard at some point about the intensive process of making syrup - anywhere from 43 to 86 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So how might have anyone figured out to boil it down, let alone collect it in the first place?

Who figured it out to poke holes in maple trees and boil down what came out? The answer to that is: no one really knows! It is widely believed the Native Americans were the first to discover the beauty of syrup, and there is a plethora of folklore to support this belief. One story features a chipmunk that scratched away the bark to drink the sweet sap for a spring energy boost, and the Native Americans learned from the chipmunks to collect the sap. In another, a chieftain yanks his tomahawk out of a tree one warm day before heading off to hunt, and sap spilled out and collected in a container at the base of the tree. His wife, thinking this was water, took it home and cooked dinner in it. However, the boiling turned sap to maple syrup making the meal taste better than it ever had previously. And so syrup was discovered.

Which of these stories are true we may never know. But we do know that the early settlers of North America likely learned about maple syrup from the Natives. It became widely made when trade was halted by Britain in the 1800s. Sugar was previously shipped to the colonies, but without trade, they had no sugar canes and thus no sugar. So, they turned to maple syrup. Initially the syrup was boiled much further, until it became loaf-like, resembling common sugar. This had a significantly weaker maple flavor. The maple syrup gradings of A and B can be traced back to this time, when A was regarded as the superior syrup - because it most closely resembled the desired european sugar. B had a more distinct maple flavor and was more like the syrup we all love today. But as time progressed and the colonies later gained access to sugar again, B started to become regarded as the superior maple syrup. And today, grade B still refers to the more high quality, maple-tasting syrup!

History can be a doozy, but history regarding maple syrup is actually quite fascinating, and here at South Hill Forest Products we encourage you to read more about it. Google is a veritable treasure trove for this kind of stuff. Fun fact: maple syrup is the oldest industry in the United States. Who knew!