On Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Prophetstown State Park (link) hosted the first, and hopefully annual, maple sugar processing demonstration.
Mark and Jessie Eaton from Woodland Indian Education (link) were on hand processing “sugar water, AKA, maple sap, into maple sugar.
The area at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers was home to first peoples for thousands of years before it became the metropolis of Prophetstown. The demonstration included both pre-1700’s and early 1800’s processing.
Before the voyagers came from Canada, local tribes collected maple sap from hard maple trees in the spring. The trees were cut and the sap gathered once the days turned warm while nights were cold. The gathering time was based on weather. It could be as short as 2 or 3 days or as long as 2 or 3 weeks, longer in an odd weather pattern. Today, trees are tapped by a variety of metal taps and are often linked by plastic tubing.
Once the sap was gathered, it had to be boiled down. Today, it is boiled down in large pans (or vats commercially) with controlled heating elements. Before the introduction of metal cookware, it was boiled down in a wooden trough using hot rocks to heat the liquid. In the early 1800’s, it was boiled down in metal pots made either in Europe or America.
The boiled sap evaporates, leaving syrup; around here the average is 14 gallons of sap for 1 gallon of syrup. Syrup is further boiled to become candy or sugar. For first peoples, granular maple sugar was the best form for storage for the year to come.
In addition to the maple sugar demo, Angie Manuel, the park naturalist, had a warming fire in the long house, taking the chill off of visitors. She also had a display on foods familiar to Prophetstown residents. She featured the hazelnut, which the park had a bumper crop of this year. Before Nutella and hazelnut coffee, hazelnuts (filberts) were a vital part of people’s diets. The same was true of residents of Prophetstown.