This lovely collection of antique tin maple sugar molds belongs to a friend/horse breeder/collector whose home and farm in New Hampshire is teaming with beautiful and unusual items of all sorts. I love collections like these since they show so much variety while also telling a story about New England traditions. The earliest methods of making maple sugar used wooden molds, but tin molds like these eventually became available.
To better appreciate this tradition, here is a little more about the history of how maple sugar molds were first used in early america...
In the early days maple sap was boiled down and made into maple sugar, instead of the more common maple syrup that we see today. There was no easy way to store syrup as a liquid, but hardened, dry maple sugar was easily stored for use later in the year. The Native Americans of New England used their maple sugar as gifts, for trading, to mix with grains and berries and bear fat. The early European settlers who came to New England made maple sugar in the way which they learned from the Native Indian population. The settlers set up sugar camps in the woods where the maple trees were most plentiful, and the trees were slashed with an ax to allow the sap to drip out and be collected.
These early sugarmakers gathered their sap in wooden buckets as they went from tree to tree. The sap was then boiled down in a series of large iron kettles hanging over a long open fire. As the syrup got thicker in one kettle it was ladled into the next one and fresh sap was then added to the first kettle. In this way, they always had the last kettle full of nearly completed syrup or sugar. When it was finally thickened enough, the liquid sugar was stirred until it began to crystallize, then poured off into wooden molds. These blocks of maple sugar could be broken up or shaved later in the year when needed.