By Dave Warner

On Saturday, the General Herkimer Home, now in its 40th year in Little Falls, bid farewell to winter and welcomed the start of the agricultural season with a colonial tradition of Sugaring Off.

The tradition of sugaring and its importance to the Mohawk Valley pre-date European colonization, when local Native American tribes began to process maple sap from the abundant maple groves of New York. European colonization expanded these traditions as colonists acquired a taste for maple products and saw opportunities for profit.

The rising cost of cane sugar in Colonial America further increased the demand for maple sugar as colonists sought to escape Britain’s control of the sugar trade.

Eddie Heinrichs, with the General Herkimer Home, organized the event and stated, “This is a tradition that we’ve had here at the Herkimer Home since 1976. It’s been some time since we’ve had it on site, but we brought it back last year for the first time in about a decade.”

He said that they’re trying to get back to the old traditions they had at the Home during the bicentennial years. “A lot of what we’re doing today are things that they did back in 1976-77.”

During the day, they produced maple syrup as they would have during the 18th century. “We’re going to be boiling down sap during the day, and at the end, we hope to be close to syrup.”

“In addition to that, we have a colonial cooking and maple sugar-making demonstration. There’s field artillery that’s doing drilling along with the 24th and other members of the Colonial Militia units. The 2nd Albany is here, and they’ll be doing military demonstrations as well,” he said.

They also had a colonial woodworker on the property, making the tools of the trade for the maple sugar. “One that he is focusing on today is sumac taps. What you would have done in the 18th century is used live sumac branches. The inside is a soft pithy core that you can easily push out with another stick, and you use those to directly tap into your maple trees,” stated Heinrichs.

There was also a Colonial brewer on hand who was making Spruce beer. “That’s one way you could have used the local products around here. You’d brew beer to put down in your root cellar to prepare for the rest of the year.”

“That was the whole point of sugaring – to prepare you to live throughout the year,” he said.

In this area, people kept large stores of maple sugar to last throughout the season, especially during the American Revolution when cane sugar imported from the Caribbean was so hard to get into the hands of American Colonists.

“This really does become a local tradition starting in the 18th Century. Communities would come together and have large festivals where they’d make enough syrup to last year-round,” he stated.

Heinrichs said, “If you’ve never been here before, this is the home of General Nicholas Herkimer. He’s the hero of the Battle of Oriskany. We all like to say here that if he had failed and did not get his men out on that battlefield, we very well could have lost the war. We would have lost New York, and Saratoga would have gone very differently.”

“This is the home of an American hero. One who saved the entirety of this valley. It probably wouldn’t have been here if it weren’t for this man and his sacrifice ten days later,” he said.