Sugar Maple

(Acer saccharum) Many maples yield a sugary sap, but only this one does so in sufficient quantity to justify exploitation. It was known to the Indians of north-east America, and sap extraction was practiced there long before the arrival of the Europeans (H G Baker). "The old trees produce the most and the richest juice ... It is a common remark (in Kentucky) that whenever they meet with a black tree ... they are sure it will prove a rich one. The blackness proceeds from the incisions made in the bark by the pecking of the parraquet, and other birds, in the season of the juice rising, which, oozing out dribbles down its sides, and stains the bark, which, in the course of time, becomes black" (J Taylor). Effective production of maple sugar is limited to the time of the spring thaw, around March. If maples are wounded at that time their sap flows freely with pressures generated in their root system. The sap must be collected and concentrated the same day, or it will ferment and turn sour (Edlin).

Maple sugar was one of the most important Menomini foods, and was used in almost every combination of cooking. With them, it took the place of salt (H H Smith. 1923). So important was it that they have an origin myth about this tree. Ma'nabus was travelling about over the earth, when one day he noticed the maple tree, which was not one of his creations. He saw that its sap was pure syrup, and it ran very slowly. He realised that it was too slow and tedious to be of much use to humans, so he urinated into the tree, thus thinning the sap and making it flow more freely (A Skinner). The Menomini would establish their sugar camps in late March or early April, and start tapping the trees at the proper time. None could be spilled or wasted, for that would be an offence to Ma'nabus; the sugar would shrink as a punishment.

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