Legends and Lore
The Chippewas and Ottawas of Michigan tell a story of the god NenawBozhoo, who cast a spell on the sugar maple tree many moons ago, turning the near pure syrup into what is now called sap. He did this because he loved his people and feared they would become indolent and destroy themselves if nature’s gifts were given too freely. This legend can be found almost universally throughout the Eastern Woodland Indian tribes making it unique and unusual for cultures that did not have a written history.
Perhaps a more believable story, recounted in the April 1896 issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Vermonter Rowland E. Robinson, is that of the Indian woman named Moqua. The story goes that Moqua was cooking a prime cut of moose for her husband, the hunter Woksis. Moqua became preoccupied with her quill-work and let the pot boil dry. Realizing she did not have time to melt snow, she instead used some maple sap she had been saving for a beverage. Woksis was so impressed with the meal that he broke the pot so he could lick the last of the “goo” from the shards.
Ojibways, Wyandots, and Indians at Pidgeon Lake
These tribes all processed maple sap in a similar fashion. As the sap began to rise, the women and their families migrated in family groups to the maple groves (“sugar bushes”) where they erected a camp and lived in wigwams made of bark. They prepared troughs, collected sap, and brought it to the fire where the most experienced women regulated the heat. Sometimes the sap was made to boil by placing hot stones in the mixture. Freshly heated stones were constantly added, while the cooler ones were fished out and reheated. It was fairly typical for each woman to have her own sugar shack.