Celebrate Maple Sugar… Native American Style

Traditions of the Algonquian Indians, who lived in northwestern Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, are kept alive in many fascinating ways at the Institute for American Indian Studies, Curtis Road, Washington, CT. One of the most interesting Native American traditions is taking place here on March 10, 2018 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. when visitors are invited to an authentic Maple Sugaring Festival.

Lost in the mists of history, Native Americans discovered that sweet sap runs from maple trees in the spring as the days get warmer and the nights stay cold. They discovered that boiling the sap in a hollowed out log with hot rocks reduced the water like liquid to an amber colored syrup; and that when cooked longer, it would also harden into a brownish colored “sugar”.

The Native Americans used this precious sap to sweeten and flavor their food, and as a sought after item to barter with. Eventually, they taught colonists the art of tapping maple trees for their sap and how to turn it into delicious “Sweetwater”.

To sweeten up spring join the staff of the Institute along with primitive technologists Jeff and Judy Kalin in the outdoor Algonquian Village for an afternoon celebrating the gift of maple syrup. The Kalins will demonstrate the traditional technique of collecting sap using only stone and wooden tools that would have been used by Native Americans. They will discuss the importance of maple sugar to the diet of Native Americans as well as its usefulness as an item of trade.

A highlight of this event are the “made from scratch” pancakes served up with local maple syrup, coffee and orange juice. The Maple Syrup Demonstration is noon – 3 pm., the Pancake Brunch is 11 am – 2 pm and children’s activities are 11:30 am – 2:30 pm. The cost is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, children are $10 and members of the museum $5.

About Primitive Technologies

PTI has built nearly 200 aboriginal structures both free standing and congregated in villages using only the tools and practices of the time such as stone axes, flaked hand tools, and fire. In his work, Jeff Kalin, owner of PTI uses only primitive tools that he has made himself.

PTI has created the village at the American Indian Archeological Institute in the style of the Eastern Woodland Indians. This reconstructed village was created to look as it would have in the 16th century prior to European contact. There are several wigwams and a longhouse in the village. The structures are covered in thatch or bark.

Mr. Kalin is recognized as an expert in stone tool replication and is a consultant to museum curators and archeologists in the analysis of artifacts. He has constructed prehistoric sets for filmmakers and his wood-fired replica pottery hand built from river clay is in private and public collections.

Native American Legends

There are many Native American legends concerning maple syrup.

Abenaki Legend

The Abenaki believed that the Creator gave many gifts to help man during his life and one of these gifts was maple syrup that would flow freely year-round from a broken tree limb. When the Creator saw the Abenaki not tending to their village or crops and just drinking the sweet sap the creator decided to teach them a lesson by making the sap flow once a year in the spring. The Abenaki learned to honor the creator’s gift by finding that it would now take a lot of work to make the syrup. To honor this gift they collected sap in birch bark buckets and prepared hot rocks to boil the sap from a thin liquid into a thick syrup.

Mohegan Legend

The Mohegan’s believed that the melting snow caused the spring sap to run and considered it to be the dripping oil of the Great Celestial Bear, that was wounded by the winter sky hunters. The bear that was represented by the Big Dipper was part of their own Pleiades story that weaves its way through many Native American origin stories.

Iroquois Legend

An Iroquois legend tells of Woksis, an Indian chief that pulled his tomahawk from a maple tree while hunting resulting in sap dripping from the tree. The chief’s squaw noticed the sap dripping from the tree and needing water to make dinner decided to collect the sap from the tree rather than walk all the way to the river. The sap made the meal very tasty and as a result, the Native Americans decided to tap maple trees.

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