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Crèvecoeur, St. John de

A French salesman/explorer/farmer, who settled on a farm in New York in 1769.

He described how to extract maple syrup without slowly killing the trees:

"In clearing his farm, my father very prudently saved all the maple trees he found, which fortunately are all placed together in the middle of our woodland . . . The common method [of tapping sugar maples] is to notch them with an axe. This operation, after a few years, destroys the trees entirely. That which my father followed is much easier and gives these trees wounds which are almost imperceptible. The best time to make this sugar is between the months of March and April, according to the season. There must be snow on the ground, and it must freeze at night and thaw in the day. These three circumstances are absolutely requisite to make the sap run in abundance . . . .I previously provide myself with as many trays as I have trees. These I bore with a large gimlet. I then fix a pile of elder, through which the sap runs into the trays. From them it is carried into the boiler, which is already fixed on the fire. If the evaporation is slow, we are provided with barrels to receive it. In a little time it becomes of the consistency of syrup. Then it is put into another vessel and made to granulate . . . . When the trees have ceased to run, we stop the holes with pegs made of the same wood. We cut them close to the bark, and in a little time the cicatrix becomes imperceptible. By these simple means our trees will afford sugar for a long time. They will run every year, according to the seasons, from six to fifteen days, until their buds fill. They do not yield every year the same quantity, but as I regularly bleed two hundred trees, which are all I have, I have commonly received six barrels of sap in twenty-four hours, which have yielded me from twelve to eighteen [pounds of sugar]."

He also dried great quantities of apples (as well as peaches and plums), some of which were exported to the West Indies. In the case of apples, he described how this was done:

"The neighbouring women are invited to spend the evening at our house. A basket of apples is given to each of them, which they peel, quarter and core . . . .

Next day a great stage is erected, either in our grass plots or anywhere else where cattle can"t come. Strong crotches are planted in the ground. Poles are horizontally fixed on these, and boards laid close together . . . When the scaffold is thus erected, the apples are thinly spread over it. They are soon covered with all the bees and wasps and sucking flies of the neighbourhood. This accelerates the operation of drying. Now and then they are turned. At night they are covered with blankets. If it is likely to rain, they are gathered and brought into the house. This is repeated until they are perfectly dried. It is astonishing to what small size they will shrink . . .

The method of using them is this: we put a small handful in warm water overnight; next morning they are swelled to their former size; and when cooked either in pies or dumplings, it is difficult to discover by the taste whether they are fresh or not."

Dried skins and cores were used to brew a kind of beer, whose barm (or yeast) was used to raise bread.

If you enjoy cooking take a minute to look at ‘Simon Scrutton French Cookery Classes’ on Google – and learn how to make top class bistro-style dishes. Suitable for beginners upwards. Small classes.

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