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Thinking Maple Syrup


I have had maple syrup on the mind lately. It is getting on to the time of year when trees pour forth the sugary goodness and we spend long hours observing the alchemy that takes place over the flaming arch of the evaporator. So let us talk maple syrup.

Perhaps you have heard the health foodies say that grade B Maple Syrup is the best. Dark, flavorful and full of all sorts of good trace minerals and vitamins. Well, sadly there will no longer be a grade B. Now before you start weeping tears of sadness for the loss of a great thing, let me clarify. Grade B no longer exists as a grade as the system has changed. Grades are now based on the taste and color of the syrup, dark hefty flavors not being pushed off into an inferior sounding “B”.

Now there is no grade B and all syrups are created on a more equal level of grade A (Lois Lowry much?). At any rate, though the color and flavor of syrup remain the same to all of our senses, the names have evolved to a more descriptive and less pedantic way of thinking. I confess I was comfortable with the old system (isn’t that how we all get? The old must be right, because it’s what we expect) and understood it implicitly – if only for the fact that I had a close familiarity with all colors and flavors of possible syrups and syrup mishaps. Right now I am sitting and looking over a handout from the New York State Maple Producers Association with the new maple nomenclature prominently featured.

What amazes me is how much language can influence how we feel about certain things. The same syrup that I used to respect as being “Grade A Medium Amber” has now been belittled to the simple name of “Amber Color.” Which sounds better to you? “Medium Amber,” or “Amber Color?” Before everyone gets all fired up at the degradation of maple jargon, let’s move on to the best news to be had: The new system has expanded to include TWO of our senses in grading description, not just the old-fashioned and generic light, medium and dark.

How it works: Maple Names, Chapter 1 Sense: sight Descriptor: color Options: Golden color, Amber color, Dark color, Very Dark color Conclusion: If one is going just by color name, “Very Dark” seems like the part of the evening when you’d much rather be in bed with a good book than walking those two miles through the woods by yourself. “Golden” implies rays of sunshine, warm laughter and perhaps a leprechaun or two. Hm… Therefore it seems that based on my eyes (and the professionally chosen description) my original syrup preferences have turned on their heads and I apparently prefer the lightest stuff possible, though now we can say things like “I’d like the golden,” which feels mildly enjoyable off the tongue. Let’s reserve judgment for the next chapter. Maple Names, Chapter 2 Sense: taste Descriptor: also taste Options: Delicate taste, Rich taste, Robust taste, Strong taste Conclusion: Now these, I like for all different reasons. I’m a bit partial to the confidence inspiring term “Robust,” but otherwise appreciate all of these. My only problem is that last one – “Strong.” If someone is strong, that’s great. If an odor is strong, that’s usually less true. A strong coffee is something I can enjoy, but strong winds occasionally inspire panic. We’ll keep the image of a strong coffee in our heads and all will be well. “Delicate” could be a bit of a namby-pamby choice and “Rich” makes me think of heavy frosting and cake.

Adding tastes to the grading system could be a great thing as it is the real guiding force behind our choices in grade of syrup. The use of one word for each grade however could fall a bit shallow as taste is such a deep and finely discerning thing. Robust can’t quite describe the full effect, and strong and robust could mean the same to some people. Delicate is an apt description but light syrup has a lot of other taste qualities besides. Regardless, the system is solid in the sense that it isn't a scale of quality but of taste and preference.

In conclusion, this grading system may deliver a more understandable grading system, but terminology may still not be at perfection. The takeaway: saleable maple syrup is now all grade A. If you want grade B you will get mud.


Pictures (from top to bottom):


Snow Drops


Spring Beauty


Blue Cohosh


Toothwort Tubers


Trout Lily



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