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Iskigamizige – Sugaring

One spring activity that is not only ancient but a multi-ethnic historical endeavor here in Wisconsin is maple sugaring. The taking of maple sap and boiling it down to syrup or sugar has been done for hundreds (if not thousands) of years in WI by native peoples, and European decent folks that moved into WI quickly followed suit.

The following are a just a few fun quotes of the French/Creole/Metis inhabitants of WI sugaring:

“… and they made immense quantities of maple sugar. At the proper season in the spring, the entire settlement would remove to their sugar-camps, often remain two months, each family making eight or ten hundred pounds of the finest sugar I ever saw.” – Col. Ebenezer Childs

“The product of the suceries of the better class of the French was a fair article of sugar, of ready sale, and in some respects preferable to the best muscavado. They had learned to use the utmost neatness and caution to keep out all impurities, and had attained to great perfection in the purifying process… and here came in the product of the chickens, to wit, the eggs, the whites of which were broken in the boiling syrup, when all impurities immediately came to the surface and were removed…” -Albert Ellis

“… found no great enjoyment than one of these spring festivals in the depth of the great maple woods, in their commodius sugar-houses… These frolics were often enlivened by an old-fashioned ‘candy-pull’ when the French girls presented their sweet-hearts, on parting, with a cake of candy, folded in a strip of birchbark, which they called their ‘billet-doux’.” – Albert Ellis

For more historical quotes and info on sugaring, check out Jeff Pavlik’s research here.

This year, my father-in-law and I decided to tap some trees and make syrup. I made a number of taps from elderberry shoots. I reamed them out with a wire and file and notched them to tie on old milk jugs. These tend to work very well and are fairly covered to the elements.

Overall, this was a great time with a delicious product.  It was historically based,  gave my father-in-law something to do during the spring break-up/thaw (he is a logger), and gave me something to think about and do before spring planting.  Heck, even the kids enjoyed it…

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