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February 2013

Sap is Running, Time for Maple Sugar Molds

For those in cold and snowy areas of North America, by mid-February the beauty of winter has become old and the spring thaw can’t come soon enough. For maple syrup production, warms days and below freezing nights make the ideal time for sap to flow. In Vermont and Northern NY, maple trees are typically tapped around March 1 in anticipation of the spring thaw.

Maple sugaring was introduced to the early pioneers by the Native Americans who had been producing maple sugar for many years before the Pilgrims landed in 1620. The Native Americans would move their families into “sugar camps” – a spot in the forest where maple trees were plentiful – for the 3-4 weeks that the sap would flow.  According to journals of early New England explorers, there were three types of maple sugar made by the Northeastern American Indians: "Grain Sugar" a coarse granulated sugar similar to that we know as "brown sugar"; "Cake Sugar," sugar poured into wooden molds to become hard cakes or blocks; and "Wax Sugar," which was made by boiling syrup extra thick and pouring it over snow.1

Maple Sugar Molds
Collection of Maple Sugar Molds

Today, the vast majority of maple sap is consumed as maple syrup. But in the early settler days, cake sugar was most popular since it was easy to store, carry and trade. The early settlers used an axe to cut a v-shape in the tree and use their buckets to capture the running sap. By 1790, holes would be drilled in the trees and a “spill” or “spile” (aka spouts) would be inserted into the tree to allow the sap to run out. Once the sap was collected, it would be boiled in iron kettles hanging over fires to evaporate the water. When the syrup was thick enough, it would be stirred until it crystallized and then poured into wooden molds. The maple sugar could then be used later in the year.

Maple sugar was very important. Families could make enough for their own consumption as well as to trade for goods.

For New Englanders, the locally made sugar was also important as it provided a source of less-expensive sugar not produced by slaves in the West Indies. The basic premise of maple sugaring didn’t change, but it did go through updates in the 100 years leading up to the Civil War. Metal buckets replaced wooden, metal tanks for sap storage replaced hallowed logs and wooden kegs and large flat pans replace the kettles. Of course, today it’s tubes, vacuums and fancy evaporation equipment.

After the Civil War, the price of cane sugar dropped replacing maple sugar as the sweetener of choice. The need for maple sugar molds declined as maple syrup became the primary product from sap.

Tom’s family had maple sugar trees on their property in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate NY. Tom’s grandfather made maple syrup every year using the large flat pan you see in the picture. It was a long and time consuming process. A favorite treat, which they called “Jack Wax”, was eating the maple syrup that had been poured over fresh snow.

Maple Sugar Boiling Pan
Cast Iron Maple Sugar Boiling pan used
by Richard Baker, Warrensburgh NY

Original wooden maple sugar molds are collectible. You can find them with interesting shapes such as hearts, flowers, maple leaves, and geometric shapes. You can also find animals such as squirrels and beavers. In addition, there are molds that were made from multiple pieces of wood that formed a larger three dimensional mold such as a log cabin. Smaller tin molds were introduced in the last 1800s and were used primarily for maple sugar candy.

Search for maple sugar molds or sugar molds on Dig Antiques.


Love Tokens
Written by Guest Columnist: Lyn Andeen

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I have sweet memories of schoolgirl days and decorating a big box for my class to deposit our valentines in. Back then valentines were either cute store bought cartoonish ones or ones made from red construction paper and heart shaped paper doilies.

The tradition of giving love tokens for Valentine’s Day became popular in the middle of the 1600's. Since then many generations have given expressions of their affection. Sailors returned from sea with beautifully crafted valentines made of tiny shells, baleen boxes, or carved whale bone.

Love Fraktur

Beautiful pen and ink or watercolor frakturs were often given as love tokens. Locks of hair intricately braided into forms or tucked behind a photo were given. Love letters found in the personal belongings of soldiers read more like a beautiful sonnet than a traditional letter. Victorian valentines with intricate cut work and pasted on embellishments put Hallmark to shame.

We also find lots of utilitarian objects with hearts carved in them. These hand crafted gems were perhaps given as a useful gift from an admirer.

It is nice to remember that long before "every kiss begins with Kay" people were giving handmade works of art and affection that we can still appreciate today.

About Lyn Andeen
Lyn Andeen has been an avid collector and dealer for the past 28 years. She has been in group shops, setup at countless antique shows and has a true artistic eye. Lyn's passion is for quality 18th through early 20th century Americana, decorative arts, Shaker and folk art. You can find Lyn online through Andeen Antiques.


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