Sugarbush: Maple Syrup Season

Disclaimer: I have no idea how to do this. Despite years of being around sugarbush, having a mom who makes great maple syrup, and going on outings like this one  over the years, I have never done this myself, from start to finish. I’ve only had the privilege to be a guest of other people who were doing sugarbush. So I am not qualified to say much on this topic. The purpose of this post is to show the world that people can and do get maple syrup from čhaŋšúška, the Box Elder maple (Acer negundo), the maple species indigenous to this territory.

When the temperatures are above freezing during the day, but still below freezing at night, the sap starts running, and it’s time for sugarbush. While many people associate this activity with regions that have the Sugar Maple (Acer Saccharum), it’s also an activity here in the Dakotas. It’s where the Lakota word for sugar (čhaŋháŋpi: čhaŋ = tree; + haŋpí = juice/sap) comes from.

One thing that I can say with confidence: Making maple syrup is a lot of work. Weeks of collecting sap, hauling heavy buckets, days of of tending a fire or stove and boiling the sap down into syrup while watching it carefully to ensure it doesn’t burn…all to produce an amount of syrup that seems surprisingly small, given the amount of labor you put in. This is even more true if you’re cooking it down even further to get maple sugar candy!

Here is Linda Black Elk’s Ethobotany class checking some of the taps her family set, in early spring 2018:

and heading into the maple grove:

Linda brought in 3 cups for us to try — raw sap, half-finished sap in the process of being cooked down, and finished syrup. The flavor is a tiny bit different from sugar-maple syrup, but I think it’s very good!

Maybe one day I’ll do this myself — but then again, maybe not. Regardless, my experiences as a guest/observer of other people’s Sugarbush makes me immensely grateful for the maple syrup I have. I have so much gratitude and respect for the people and trees who put so much into making it!

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