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Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton


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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Sugar Shacks: The Reason for the Season


When settlers arrived in North American, the Native Americans indigenous to the region had been “sugaring” for many generations. Using hollowed out twigs as spigots and pitch-sealed birch bark pots as containers, Native Americans gathered sap and boiled it into syrup or maple sugar by dropping hot rocks into vats (made from hollowed out tree trunks) of maple sap. Settlers in New England quickly adopted the practice of setting up seasonal camps in the sugarbush to collect and boil sap into a source of sweetener for cooking and for trading. During the Civil War, maple sugar was the politically correct sweetener used by abolitionists as an alternative to cane sugar produced primarily with slave labor.  And during WWII, people in New England were encouraged to stretch their sugar rations by sweetening foods with maple syrup, and recipe books were printed to help housewives employ this alternative source.

AbenakiMaking Maple

Today, maple sugaring is a time-honored family tradition in New England, more of a passion than a source of seasonal income (80% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada). Despite changes in collection and boiling of the sap, sugaring is still a labor-intensive process that unites families and neighbors outdoors at a time when most of us don’t want to venture out of our hibernation lairs.

But venture out we do when the sugar shacks come alive with sweet clouds of evaporative steam. Many sugar shacks have family-style dining areas added on to the actual space where wood-fueled evaporative boilers reduce the sap to syrup. Winter-weary New Englanders jostle happily in lines outside sugar shacks every weekend during the season, waiting their turn to sit elbow to elbow at long picnic tables inside eating waffles and blueberry pancakes off of paper plates. There is an endless supply of freshly boiled maple syrup, coffee and conviviality, as folks come alive again, sharing tales of making it through yet another winter (the skyrocketing cost of gas and heating oil was common ground for commiseration this year) and what is poking through in their hopeful gardens.

And talk about a reversal of political correctness, many of my pc (or at least health conscious) friends who assiduously avoid sugar and excessive carbs during the rest of the year, make headlong, joyous (almost self-righteous) and numerous pilgrimages to sugar shacks, carbo-loading with the best of them, pouring on the sweet gift of the maples with impunity.  Ah, sweet mystery of life!


Sugar Barn




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