For many at Old Sturbridge Village, the first whiff of spring isn't the aroma of spring flowers but the smell of wood smoke and maple syrup.
OSV, located at 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road in Sturbridge, will demonstrate the sugar-making process during its Maple Days events, held every Saturday and Sunday in March except March 30-31. Cost is included with daytime admission, a season pass or Village membership. The Village will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"We have the diaries and records of people from the 1830s, so we know this was an activity they did, so OSV, being a living-history museum, wanted to show what folks would be doing all times of the year in a village like this," said Michael Arnum, director of marketing and public relations.
He added this is an event they do every year to celebrate this time of year and the upcoming spring season.
See the entire sugar-making process as demonstrations will go throughout the day.
"We show them how to start a spigot," Arnum said. "We have the big pot of boiling syrup, and we have to watch for safety, of course, but they can definitely observe and participate. And in the household, they can certainly participate in baking goods."
As long as there are warm days and cool nights, the sap from about a dozen tapped trees will continue to flow. Maples are usually tapped beginning between 30 and 40 years of age and can continue to be tapped until they are older than 100.
But instead of sweet syrup to put on your pancakes, those living in the 1830s preferred to make maple sugar instead.
"They weren't so interested in syrup because it didn't last -- you couldn't preserve it," Arnum said. "So they were making maple sugar, which was shelf-stable so they can keep it longer."
Maple sugar was made into a hard block that looks like a large lump of brown sugar. Once it was in that form, it would be wrapped in paper or cloth and last for a long time on the shelf for the winter months. People would then shave off the block to get the sugar, which would be used in baked goods.
Costumed historians will cook period foods made with the maple sugar for visitors to try throughout Maple Days.
"Another reason for some people -- why they were using this -- is if you were an abolitionist against slavery, you would be encouraging others to use maple sugar instead of cane sugar," Arnum said. "It was the first form of protest against slave labor and how they expressed their economic vote."
The making of maple sugar was also something the colonizers learned from the Native Americans, not something brought over from Europe.
"Maple sugar was something they produced themselves for the end of winter," Arnum said. "It was mostly agricultural communities, so the wintertimes tended to be a little bit quieter in terms of tasks, so it was a nice filler for them, if you will, and a way to fulfill a purpose and, for some, a way to protest against slavery," he said.
Maple Days is in addition to all the other activities OSV offers that will continue for visitors to enjoy. Visit the blacksmith, pottery shop households and more.
"I think my favorite part is being outside on a late winter day standing in front of that big pot of boiling sap," Arnum said. "It was as much a social activity for them as well as being productive."
Admission is $28 for adults, $26 for seniors age 55 and older, $14 for college students and youth ages 4-17, and free for children 3 and younger. For more information, visit osv.org.
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