It’s one of the few procedures that was not brought to the USA by European settlers.
While there are lots of interesting and terrific stories about the source of maple syrup, there are no authenticated accounts of how the procedure was discovered. One of the most popular legends entails a Native American chief who discovered that the clear liquid sap seeping from a tree he’d stuck his tomahawk into. The chief’s wife, after tasting it and discovering it tasted quite good cooked his meat in it. The chief was so impressed with the sweet taste of this maple meat he named it Sinzibudkwud which means”drawn from trees”. Native Americans still quite often use this phrase when speaking to maple syrup.
Soon they discovered that cutting or (wounding) a maple tree in early spring caused it to ooze a sweet clear liquid which may be processed into a sweet product they found to be delicious. Most stories likely have been altered over time, but the discovery of maple syrup most likely was accidental.
Over the years they learned they could gradually decrease the sap to syrup by repeatedly freezing it, discarding the ice, and saying over again. They can store up to 30 pounds of maple sugar containers made from birch bark.
Finally some of the Native American tribes began to process the maple sap over fire. They left troughs where they collected the sap and brought it to the flame. The sap was heated by adding heated stones. Freshly heated stones could be added while removing older cooler stones to be reheated. Most early Native Americans preferred sugar and used maple syrup or sugar on their fish and meat.
Early settlers imitated the Native American methods to produce their maple syrup. They would boil the sap over an open flame until it reduced down to syrup. Not much changed for the next two hundred years, and then during the civil war that the tin can was invented. It was not long before syrup manufacturers discovered a large flat sheet of metal could make a much more efficient pan to boil maple sap than the formerly utilized heavy curved iron kettle.
Most original syrup makers were dairy farmers that made maple sugar and syrup for their own use, or a little extra income during the off season. They always looked for a more efficient and quicker way to make their syrup. Many innovative ideas and procedures evolved over time, but for the most part technology remained the same for another century. They could not afford to hire the lot of people required to tap the trees and haul the tiny buckets into the evaporator house.
Finally with the energy crunch of the 1970’s another surge of technological breakthroughs occurred. Tubing systems were developed, and vacuum pumps inserted to draw the sap directly from the trees to the evaporator house. Pre-heaters were “recycle” heat that formerly had been lost were developed, and reverse-osmosis filters that eliminate some of the water from the sap before it’s boiled were developed.