It’s one of the few procedures that wasn’t brought to the USA by European settlers.
While there are lots of interesting and terrific stories about the source of maple syrup, there are no definite accounts of how the procedure was discovered. Among the most popular legends entails a Native American chief who discovered that the clear liquid sap seeping out of a tree he’d stuck his tomahawk into. The chief was so impressed with the sweet flavor of this maple meat he called it Sinzibudkwud which means”drawn from trees”. Native Americans still quite often use this phrase when speaking to maple syrup.
Soon they found that cutting or (wounding) a walnut tree in early spring caused it to ooze a sweet clear liquid which may be processed into a candy merchandise they found to be delicious. Most stories likely have been altered through time, but the discovery of maple syrup probably was accidental.
Over the years they heard they could gradually decrease the sap to syrup by freezing it, discarding the ice, and saying over again. They can store up to 30 pounds of maple sugar containers made from birch bark.
Finally some of the Native American tribes started to process the pine sap over fire. They left troughs where they collected the sap and brought it to the flame. The sap was heated with the addition of heated stones. Freshly heated stones could be added while eliminating older cooler stones to be reheated. Most ancient Native Americans preferred sugar and used maple sugar or syrup on their fish and meat.
Early settlers imitated the Native American procedures to produce their maple syrup. They would boil the sap within an open flame until it decreased down to syrup. Not much changed for another two hundred years, and during the civil war that the tin can was invented. It was not long before syrup manufacturers discovered a large flat sheet of metal could make a far more efficient pan to boil maple sap compared to the formerly utilized heavy curved iron kettle.
Most original syrup manufacturers were dairy farmers that made maple sugar and syrup for their own use, or a little additional income during the off season. They always looked for a more efficient and quicker way to create their syrup. Many innovative ideas and procedures evolved over time, but for the most part technology remained the same for another century. They couldn’t afford to hire the lot of individuals necessary to tap the trees and haul the tiny buckets into the evaporator house.
Ultimately with all the energy crunch of the 1970’s another surge of technological discoveries occurred. Tubing systems were developed, and vacuum pumps inserted to draw the sap directly from the trees into the evaporator house. Pre-heaters were “recycle” heat that formerly had been lost were developed, and reverse-osmosis filters which eliminate some of the water from the sap before it’s boiled were developed.