Monday, February 28, 2011

Maple Sugaring During a Full Sap Moon

By: Christina Ely, Registrar, Plowline: Images of Rural New York

Maple sugaring, an agricultural endeavor localized to the Northeastern part of North America, goes back centuries. It is well known that the Colonists learned maple sugaring from the Native Americans who had boiled maple sap into syrup and sugar for so long that legends about how it came to be had been created. They also created two festivals celebrating maple sugaring, and had a “Sap Moon” also known as the “Maple Moon” or “Sugar Moon.”

Like ice harvesting, which I blogged about earlier this year, maple sugaring was an activity which farmers traditionally took part in each year. It was a sure sign that Spring was on its way to the Northeast. As the days became warm, but nights went below freezing the sugary sap would start to “run,” and farmers would race to gather the sap before the season’s abrupt end. The purpose of production has changed over time from the creation of a product of necessity (maple sugar) to a product of luxury (maple syrup). In the later part of the 1700s through much of the 1800s it was the production of maple sugar that was popular and useful, not maple syrup, which would spoil more quickly.

In the early, early days of production, people would use the “boxing” technique, cutting a diagonal or “V”-shaped gash in the sugar maple and then insert a reed or concave piece of bark with a wood trough or bucket beneath it to catch the dripping sap. This gave way to the use of wooden spiles around 1810, which were replaced by metal spiles invented during the Civil War. Metal buckets came some years later, with an introduction as late as 1875.

By 1850, boiling down sap moved into its own building. The “sugar shack” or “sugarhouse” began cropping up on farms and in sugarbushes across the Northeast.  

By 1959, metal buckets were beginning to be replaced by plastic tubing which proved to have greater efficiency as it could be directly connected to a large collecting tank in the sugarbush or to the sugar shack directly-saving a lot of time and labor.

In the late 1800s, boiling the sap became more efficient with the invention and manufacture of the evaporator.   The photo below shows the large and small evaporators at Yancy’s Sugarbush in Croghan, New York.  These evaporators were purchased in the 1920s by Andrew Yancey (2nd generation family owner) and are still in use at Yancey’s Sugarbush today.  They are fueled by wood cut from the Sugarbush

Along the way, some producers stopped using horses and sleigh to collect their sap from the sugarbush, and began to use a more modern means of collecting.  Even today, some producers insist that the use of a team of horses and sleigh or wagon is the best means for collection out in the sugarbush –  an example being the two teams of horses used at Yancey’s Sugarbush today.  A  romantic reminder for some, reminiscent of days gone by.
Join us during the “full sap moon” and celebrate the end of winter each Sunday in March for our annual Sugaring Off event from 9am – 2 pm and enjoy pancakes, maple syrup and traditional maple sugaring activities.
To view more images of maple sugaring from the early 1950s through the early 1970s visit Plowline: Images of Rural New York, one of our new collection websites.

Images from top to bottom:
Maple Sugaring in Lewis County, NY, 1950. Dante Tranquille. Photographic Negative. H 2.25” x W 2.25”, F0001.2010(069)j.
Maple Sugaring in Lewis County, NY, 1950. Dante Tranquille. Photographic Negative. H 2.25” x W 2.25”, F0001.2010(069)aa.
Maple Sugaring, ca. 1965. Dante Tranquille. Photographic Negative. 35mm, F0001.2010(134)nn.
Yancey’s Sugarbush, 1972. Dante Tranquille. Photographic Negative. 35mm, F0001.2010(127)d.
Maple Sugaring in Lewis County, NY, 1950. Dante Tranquille. Photographic Negative. H 2.25” x 2.25”, F0001.2010(069)c.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin