The History of Maple as it might have been told to me
Based on existing historical sources, we know that between 1536 and 1542, Jacques Cartier and his companions, intrigued by a tree they believed to be a large walnut tree, but which was in fact a sugar maple, cut it and copious amounts of maple water spurted out, which they found tasted like good wine. According to accounts written in 1557 by the cosmographer André Thévet, an Indian explained to him that the name they gave this tree was “Couton.”
We have to wait until 1606 and Marc Lescarbot, a lawyer, traveller and writer in Acadia, to identify another account of maple water. He describes the Indians collecting it and what he calls the distillation of maple water. Among other things, he tells about the use of hot stones to cook food. A little later on in the century, Gabriel Sagard, a missionary and Recollect friar, confirms the use of maple water among the Indians and the said evaporation process. He describes it as a fortifying drink. This idea of a drink that revive your strength is also expressed by father Lejeune in 1634, relating the accounts of the mountain people [Montagnais], who eat the bark of the maple to combat hunger during a famine. He describes maple water as a sweet sugar like honey.
Throughout the 17th century, accounts of maple water increased, confirming a slow change in the consumption of maple sugar. In the second half of the 17th century, and then in the 18th century, allusions to exporting maple sugar to France as a culinary curiosity increase, and that coincides with the increase in the consumption of maple sugar but not to the widespread use. Sugar remains a consumable reserved mainly for nobles and the high born; however, gradually, as growing sugarcane became more widespread in Brazil and the West Indies, more people than ever become users. Maple sugar coated almonds are a candy of which King Louis IV is particularly fond. And it is a business woman (which is rare for the times) and manufacturer from Montreal, Agathe de Repentigny, who sends him some. However, the most remarkable thing during the century known as the age of Enlightenment is the way science views the sugar maple, touting the virtues of maple water and maple sugar, which is widely consumed in New France in 1749, as attested to by the Swedish biologist Peter Kalm.
In 1708, Lord de Diereville, during a trip to Acadia, explains the rudimentary techniques used by the Indians to tap the maples. It consisted of making a four-inch wide gash in the tree and inserting a piece of wood shaped like a trough, from which the water flows into a container, usually made of birch bark. In New England, Paul Dudley, in a work devoted to the manufacture of maple sugar from what he calls “maple juice,” explains more scientifically than any other person before him the technique of manufacturing maple sugar. Then Pierre-François Xavier de Charlevoix, Monseigneur de la Barre, and Jean-François Lafitau confirm the changes in the maple sugar manufacturing technique thanks to the use of the iron cauldron.
The sugar maple, maple water and maple sugar all owe their renown to renowned scientists like Louis Duhamel du Monceau, in his work "The Treaty of the Forest" published by the Royal Academy of France, Denis Diderot, in his encyclopaedia, the
"Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers," and Swedish botanist Peter Kalm, who, thanks to their holistic approach, explain the natural process, and then the production process and the beneficial effects on health, or, in the work of Peter Kalm, the expansion in consumption, giving meaning to a description that will henceforth be his, the local sugar.
The 19th century will be the century of transition from certain outmoded tapping and collection techniques to the use of new methods which research and science are making available to maple sugar producers. From tapping with an incision made with an axe to the brace, from the wooden bucket to the metal cauldron with lid, from the metal cauldron that had to be removed from the fire to the evaporator and from the foliage shelter to the wooden sugar shack, production slowly evolves to the model we still recognize today in its general characteristics, not including the equipment used in the 20th century. During that century a method for preserving maple syrup is discovered, maple butter is invented, and the 591 ml can is developed, which we still use today.
In the 1920s, five categories of maple syrup appear. The second half of the twentieth century sees maple syrup replace maple sugar with consumers. It is now found in supermarkets in a new format more appropriate for the needs of increasingly urban consumers. In fact, maple syrup leaves the corner grocer’s for supermarkets and commercial channels for shopping centres. At that time a drawing contest is held by the Ministry of Agriculture to design a drawing for the maple syrup can, a drawing that still appears today on our cans.
The hiring of a senior chemist by the Cooperative of maple syrup producers, the appearance of tubing in the 1970s and of reverse osmosis in the 1980s will make it possible to reduce the work time for the family in the sugar grove. The increase in the number of taps will make it possible to satisfy the growth in consumption of maple products both n the domestic market and in foreign markets.
At the turn of the 21st century, the maple products placed on the market will reflect the promotion of maple products as less seasonal in nature. They will be backed by the research and innovation characterizing the period around 2005, and in particular the discovery of Quebecol, a molecule unique to maple syrup, which is part of the polyphenol family.
Interview with Pierre Rheaume, researcher on the history of maple, you will discover the origins of maple products of Quebec. Presented by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.