Once Upon a Time – Making Maple Syrup Part 2

Arthur Alexander continues to recall late-winter days long ago in Bruce County, a time when farmers harvested their sweet “first crop.” Once the sap was boiled and brought home, the work continued.

At the house the women took over in the work of straining and cleansing. In those days the syrup was strained through cloth. There were different methods of cleansing. In one system they used the whites of eggs and the impurities were skimmed off as they rose to the top. Then it was strained again and put into glass sealers and stored. I cannot recall maple syrup ever being sold seventy years ago. It was either used by the family or given as a gift to friends or neighbours. Somehow, we just did not set a monetary value on maple syrup.

William Rainboth & Edna Boswell tapping a maple tree ca. 1912, at Rainboth’s Bush, Amabel Township Courtesy of Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, A956.070.013

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the taffy parties often held at the close of the syrup season. These were social events, sometimes held in the bush but more often in the home, where friends and neighbours were invited to the house to spend a social evening and to partake of as much taffy as they could eat. Taffy was made by boiling the syrup longer, then pouring it over clean snow procured from some lingering snowbank. Maple sugar was made by boiling it even longer, beating it vigorously, then pouring it into buttered flat-bottomed pans. No one ever seemed to get sick from eating their fill of these maple products.

Making maple syrup was always a pleasant task in spite of the hard work. True, we had wet feet, smoke-filled eyes and tired muscles. But there was something in the warm sunshine, the Spring air and the March breezes that was conducive to health. Besides, all nature seemed to be coming alive. The groundhogs came out of their holes, the crows were back and the woodpeckers were drilling holes in the hollow trees. You felt the nearness of God through His creation.

Making maple syrup nowadays calls for a different story than one describing it in 1905. That I will leave to the pen of some modern writer.


This article was originally written for the 1975 Bruce County Historical Society Year Book and adapted by Bob Johnston