In November of 1621, English settlers and Wampanoag Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving, in Plymouth, located on land that is now Massachusetts. Celebrated was the first successful crop that the settlers – they called themselves Pilgrims – harvested.
The Pilgrims set foot in the New World in September of 1620, following a 66 day sail aboard the Mayflower. That first winter was brutal – and most of the Pilgrims stayed on the Mayflower rather than in the rudimentary shelters that the newly arrived had managed to build. About half of the settlers perished before the following spring. Yet it would be in early spring that something remarkable happened – something that greatly helped make possible the survival of the Pilgrims.
Here is an excerpt from a History.Com story on Thanksgiving that describes that remarkable something:
“In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.”
Yes, – among all the lessons that Squanto taught the Pilgrims– was how to extract sap from maple trees; indeed, the indigenous people of America were the first to make maple sugar and maple syrup. Maple sugar and maple syrup remain the sweetening base of many confections and candies.
Without the help of Squanto and the Wampanoag – who lived in an area that included present day Easton, the home of the www.hilliardscandy.com flagship store – the survival of the Pilgrims was iffy.
So when that first crop came in the late summer and early fall of 1621 – a crop whose success was owed so much to the natives – Governor William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims, decided to hold a thanksgiving celebration and feast, and invited members of nearby Native American tribes. Attending the celebration/feast was the Wampanoag chief Massasoit.
As reported in the History.Com story, the settlers did not have stoves and their sugar supply was low, so no pies were served at the event. Yet since the Native Americans knew how to make maple sugar and maple syrup, and since they had shared the process with the newly arrived, maybe some sort of maple sugar or maple syrup sweetened dessert was served. You think?
Anyway, Native Americans of this region – the region where are located the three Hilliards House of Candy stores – in Easton, Canton, and Hanover – made maple sugar. Below is a recipe – taken from the Mr. Donn education website – for making Native American Maple Syrup Candy:
1 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup walnut halves (or any nut)
and/or 1 cup dried apricots or prunes
Directions: Place maple syrup and water in a small, deep saucepan and heat slowly, without stirring, to the softball stage (238 F. on a candy thermometer.)
Remove from the heat.
Drop the walnuts into the hot syrup. Turn gently with a spoon so they are evenly coated.
Remove to aluminum foil with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the apricots.
If the syrup begins to harden, heat just long enough to melt it again.
Cool nuts and fruit to room temperature and serve
By the way, for the maple candy lover, the Hilliards House of Candy maple creams are beyond delicious.