National Maple Syrup Day
Maple syrup is used on breakfast foods such as pancakes, waffles, and French toast, and can be added to many dishes as a sweetener. It can even be poured on top of ice cream for dessert. Today we use a little more of it than usual, as it is National Maple Syrup Day.
Maple syrup is made from sap from sugar maple trees—trees that are also known as rock maples or hard maples. Maple syrup is a North American product; Canada produces most of it, and in the United States most of it comes from Vermont and New York. Native Americans in the northeastern part of the continent were the first to make it, by cutting the bark on trees and letting the sap drip out.
By the 1720s, colonists learned the technique, which became known as sugaring. After the thaw in late winter allowed the sap to begin flowing through the maple trees, the colonists would gash the trunks and guide the sap into troughs. They would then boil it over fires. Using maple as a sweetener was done in part to save money, as cane sugar from the West Indies was more expensive. This especially was the case after 1764, when the Sugar Act placed high duties on imported sugar.
Following the Revolution, the production of maple boomed, and maple became a primary source of sweetening. Besides being used as a syrup, it was used to make candy and molasses and was used in beer and wine. Maple syrup began being packed in tin cans, which continued to increase its popularity.
A lot of syrup that is used today is no longer pure maple syrup and is often made with other sweeteners. It must be labeled as such and is often known as pancake syrup. In 1887, P.J. Towle of St. Paul, Minnesota, made a blend of maple and sugarcane syrup that was less expensive than pure maple syrup. He put it in a tin that looked similar to the type of cabin Abraham Lincoln grew up in and called it Log Cabin Syrup.
Sugaring is a popular social ritual, particularly in New England. Professional and amateur sugarers collect sap from a group of maple trees called a "sugar bush," and take it back to a "sugarhouse" to be boiled down. It takes about 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
It is unknown why National Maple Syrup Day takes place in December, as it is in late winter when the sap is flowing and when maple syrup is made. Sap harvests and demonstrations are often held. Some of the sap is often boiled down at the demonstrations, with free samples being given out.
Celebrate the day by eating maple syrup! Make sure it is pure maple syrup and not a mix. Put it on pancakes, waffles, or French toast, or pour it over vanilla ice cream. There are many recipes you could make that use it as well. Although it is probably too early in the season to go to a sugaring event, check to see if there are any places that do them in your community. If you have a few of your own maple trees, you could consider making your own maple syrup! Just remember you need about 35 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup.
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