Food Culture / Mitten Culture

Celebrating Michigan’s Maple Sugaring Heritage

Michigan has a rich heritage of maple sugaring. My grandparents live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and operate a maple syrup farm. Growing up I was spoiled with the real deal. If you know, you know. Once you’ve tasted the difference, you can never go back to the imitation syrup. 

Indigenous communities traditionally used maple sugaring as a way to make it through the colder months when food might be running low or scarce. Native Americans put the maple sugar sap in wide, shallow vessels made out of trees and left it out to freeze. This would separate the water from the sugar. The ice would be removed before the sun had a chance to melt, to reduce the water content. Hot stones would be heated and placed in the vessels to cook down the maple sugar. European settlers introduced a new way of production using large cauldrons set over fire (how witchy is that?). It takes roughly 40 gallons of maple sugar to make a gallon of maple syrup. 

Depending on the weather, maple sugaring runs during a very short season from February through April in the Northeast part of the United States and Canada. Its short season and lengthy process explains the reason why this delicious topping is so expensive (but so worth it!).

Maple Sugaring Programs in Michigan 

During the months of February through April, you’ll find festivals and programming around the maple sugaring process, history, and flavor. This year my son and I took a class at the Stage Nature Center in Troy, MI. The center has a great guided hike through the sugar bush area, allowing you to explore the process and enjoy nature. This year they also had an opportunity to help support the organization, by allowing guests to sponsor one of the sugar maple trees. The leased tree comes with a family name tag, a pint of maple syrup, and opportunities to learn about tapping. I think it could be a really great gift or something a family could do together!

Michigan is an awesome place to learn about maple sugaring and an important part of our state’s food heritage. During this time of year keep your eyes out for programs and activities that the whole family can participate in! Not to mention, maple syrup is a really versatile ingredient perfect for sweet and savory foods and even cocktails. All year we’ll be sharing some of our favorite maple recipes, so stay tuned!

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