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NenawBozhoo and Real Maple Syrup

Though we have no written accounts detailing who invented maple syrup, we do know that Native American tribes were enjoying the sweet taste long before Europeans settled in America – and we have their legends to prove it.

They begin with the legend of NenawBozhoo, an Ottawa & Chippewa god who was disturbed that the people were becoming lazy. You see, they were drinking pure syrup from their maple trees rather than hunting or foraging for food.

And so he cast a spell on all maple trees, turning the syrup into the watery sap that we know today and that requires a certain amount of effort before it can be consumed as syrup.

Here at Little Farm, we know the work involved in transforming about 40 gallons of sap into one gallon of deliciously sweet maple syrup! Our process is grounded in centuries old traditions too.

You see, for hundreds of years each spring, trees were tapped by hand, and a wooden bucket was hung from each individual spile. When the sap was flowing well, those buckets might all be checked a couple of times a day. As the buckets filled, all that maple sap was collected by hand and hauled by horse drawn (or human drawn) sled to a large pot that sat over a wood fire, slowly evaporating the water until the sap became syrup.

A spoon was dipped into the simmering sap. If the sap needed to simmer more, it would fall off the spoon in separate droplets. When it began to run off the spoon in a sheet or a stream, then it was done!

Making maple syrup was necessarily a labor intensive process, what with hand collecting and tending the simmering sap, and so was first made in small batches. “Pure” meant nothing was added – just sap direct from the trees with the excess water evaporated.

The advent of tubing in the 1950’s and the accompanying technology that followed changed all that. More trees could be tapped, less labor was required, and syrup production could be exponentially increased. It’s not surprising then that maple syrup became a commodity defined by large scale evaporators, reverse osmosis machines, filter presses, pan cleaners, sap defoamers, reverse osmosis soap, propylene glycol, citric acid membrane preservative, and filter aids.

Here at Little Farm, though we respect technology, we have made an intentional decision to go back to the basics. OK – we use a syrup thermometer to ensure that all of our syrup is at the legally required 67% sugar, and we use brand new food grade milk jugs each year, just like the ones that contain your organic milk.

You see, we want to know what is in our syrup (no additives whatsoever, nothing but simmered down sap – just like in the olden days). We want to know that our simmering pan is cleaned after each batch not with chemicals but with hot water and white vinegar. We want to connect with each individual tree as Native Americans did before us. We want to marvel at each uniquely flavored small batch as early settlers might have done.

We may only produce 15 gallons of syrup each spring from the 100 trees we tap, but we know we are producing it in a way that is grounded in solid tradition, linking us even to NenawBozhoo – and that make us feel mighty good!

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