Saturday, February 18, 2012
Maple Syrup Grading and the History of The United States
When I take my syrup to get judged I often get asked the question; "Why is it that maple syrup that has the lightest color and the least amount of maple flavor is graded at a higher grade?"
They are right to ask. I mean if you're paying $55.00 a gallon for maple syrup, shouldn't you want it to taste like maple syrup? That's not how it's graded though, the better the grade, the less maple flavor it has. If you like a good, deep amber maple syrup with a good amount of flavor, you want to buy a lower grade. So, why is that?
The answer has a lot to do with the founding of the United States of America and what led up to our Revolutionary War. So maple syrup grading is a bit of history in a jar.
A few hundred years ago, before the U.S. was the U.S., we were simply colonies of England. The ruling people of the time were basically displaced Europeans. They really weren't out to be separate from their European roots, they weren't looking to be Americans. Some were here for business opportunities, others because of religious persecution, still others were here because they couldn't find work or land back in the old countries. But they still considered themselves to be Europeans.
Now back in this time there was no TV, radio, smart phones, computers...basically there were fewer ways of communications. They did have newspapers, they had taverns for the men to get together in and they had afternoon tea. Afternoon tea was a ritual for neighbors to come together and talk about what was happening around the area and around the world. Tea time was a very important part of the social structure of the time. If you didn't do afternoon tea, you often didn't know what was happening around you. So people spent a great deal of time and money to make their afternoon teas the best. The more well connected people you had come to your tea, the more news you found out about.
Rich people had tea imported from China, they had sugar imported from the colonies on South America, they had lemons imported from the Mediterranean area. Much of what they ate everyday could be grown on the farms and plantations of the area, but tea time ingredients came from far away.
Poorer people in the colonies couldn't afford all this importing. They would have saved their money to buy a nice tea set, but the ingredients were usually stuff they could get from the area. New Jersey tea is a plant that roots have a similar taste to oriental tea and it grew in abundance. Sumac berries and lemon balm was used instead of imported lemons. And maple syrup and sorghum was used instead of sugar. Maple syrup wasn't as heavy as sorghum so it was used more often for tea.
Well, as most Americans know about their history, the import tax on these goods kept getting higher and higher as the King of England needed more money to fight his wars. Most of these wars had nothing to do with the colonies and when the colonies needed help, the king would not send help. When the colonists tried to complain, they had no voice back home in Europe. They became tired of paying the taxes with no voice on how these taxes were spent. They didn't mind the taxes, they just didn't like that none of it was being spent on them.
So, what the first patriots of the times did was stop buying stuff that had to be imported on English ships. Some tried smuggling goods in, but this proved to be expensive. But these patriots noticed that poorer people could make it quite well without paying for all these imported goods. The original patriots knew something we seem to have forgotten, that is sometimes we have to give something up to gain our freedoms. They stopped buying from English ships. Things that tasted most like tea became their tea, lemon flavored sumac berries were good enough lemon flavor. And maple syrup that was light enough to pass for regular sugar became very sought after. The closer it was to sugar, the higher its grade would be.
We still carry this grading system today. The lighter the color of the syrup, the less maple flavor it has, the higher the grade is on the syrup. It is a nod towards our freedom fighting ancestors that started our march toward a free country by giving up something that was very important to them. Maple syrup is a very North American product. It comes from only one tiny little part on this planet, the North East part of the U.S. and the Eastern part of Canada.
Again, the history from here is something that most young Americans are taught in school. Despite the patriots giving up their imports, there were still many people that just kept right on buying from the enemy. So one night some men in Boston climbed aboard three ships that the leaders of Boston refused to send back to England. They threw the tea overboard so that EVERYONE in the colonies would be forced to join the struggle on one side or the other.
It was the beginning of the war that led to the interesting experiment that is The United States of America. And maple syrup played a role in our freedom.