It is one of the few processes 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 authenticated accounts of how the process was discovered. One of the most popular legends involves a Native American chief who discovered the clear liquid sap seeping out of a tree he had stuck his tomahawk into. The chief was so impressed with the sweet taste 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 maple tree in early spring caused it to ooze a sweet clear liquid which could be processed into a candy product they found to be delicious. Most stories likely have been modified over the years, but the discovery of maple syrup most likely was accidental.
Over the years they heard they could gradually decrease the sap to syrup by freezing it, discarding the ice, and stating over again. They can store up to 30 pounds of maple sugar in containers made of birch bark.
Finally some of the Native American tribes began to process the maple sap over fire. They made troughs where they collected the sap and brought it to the fire. 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 syrup or sugar on their fish and meat.
Early settlers imitated the Native American methods to make their maple syrup. They would boil the sap over an open flame until it decreased down to syrup. Not much changed for the next two hundred years, and then during the civil war the tin can was invented. It wasn’t long before syrup manufacturers discovered that a large flat sheet of metal could make a much more efficient pan to boil maple sap than the previously utilized heavy curved iron kettle.
Most original syrup manufacturers were dairy farmers who made maple syrup and sugar for their own use, or a little additional income during the off season. They continually looked for a more efficient and faster way to create their syrup. Many innovative ideas and processes evolved over time, but for the most part technology remained the same for another century. In the 1960’s it was so labor intensive and time consuming it was no longer possible for small farmers to sustain themselves. They could not afford to hire the lot of people necessary to tap the trees and haul the tiny buckets into the evaporator house.
Finally with the energy crunch of the 1970’s another surge of technological breakthroughs occurred. Tubing systems were developed, and vacuum pumps added to draw the sap directly from the trees into the evaporator house. Pre-heaters were that”recycle” heat that formerly was lost were developed, and reverse-osmosis filters that remove some of the water out of the sap before it’s boiled were developed.