The Institute for American Indian Studies will present its Annual Maple Sugaring Festival on Saturday, March 7, 2015 from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. What makes this Festival unique is Jim Dinafor who will present a full Native American Sugar-making demonstration in the Institute’s outdoor Algonkian Village.
Inside the Museum and Institute, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, staff members will serve pancakes with delicious local maple syrup. Fun activities for the children will run from 1:00 – 3:00 pm.
The Native American lore of sweet maple syrup is fascinating. The Mohegans believed that the melting snow caused the spring sap to run in the maples. They considered the sap to be the dripping oil of the Great Celestial Bear, who had been wounded by the winter sky hunters – according to their own Pleiades story. The bear, sometimes becoming the celestial bear and embodying the Big Dipper, repeats itself through many Indian origin stories.
Native People discovered in their woodlands the sources of seasoning and sweetening medicines and foods. Long before recorded history, their investigations unlocked the secrets of extracting many dietary substances from their natural environments. Lost in pre-history are the earliest experiences that led to “sugaring”.
It was usual for whole families to participate in the labor of sugaring, although in some tribes the women went first to the maple forests to make any necessary repairs to the camp and sugaring utensils. Among the Iroquois and the Ojibwa Indians, the women owned the maple groves, which they inherited through their maternal line. Seensibaukwut is the Ojibwa word for maple sugar, which means, “drawn from the wood.”
Tree sap is essentially water absorbed by the roots and mixed with some of the stored tree sugars. Sap will begin to run upwards from the roots on warm late-winter days followed by freezing nights. These conditions usually begin in late February in southern New England.
Once the sap had been collected, it needed to be boiled down (reduced). The sap was then put into a hollowed out log where fiery hot stones were placed into it. The purpose of the hot stones was to cause the sap to boil. This may have needed to be done several times to obtain the correct consistency.
This was the traditional “Native” way.