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Super villains have struck directly at our happy way of life! In the past week, shocking news of an unprecedented large scale crime has rocked the world of…um…breakfast, I guess. Thieves in Quebec (so probably French-speaking, mustache-twirling thieves with horizontally striped clothes and skull caps) broke into a warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford and stole 10 MILLION pounds of maple syrup from the global strategic maple syrup reserve. The warehouse was locked up tight and under constant video and electronic security surveillance. The syrup was carefully removed from the large barrels in which it had been contained–so the theft was not initially apparent. Actually this does not sound like the work of super villains so much as aliens. What earthly purpose would anyone have with 10 million pounds of maple syrup (unless it happens to be the fuel for, say, stellar travel or wormhole lubrication)?In case you are dismissively waving your hand and assuming you can get Vermont syrup or something, you should know that Quebec is the source of up to 80% of the world’s maple syrup. Maybe this crime was not the work of cat burglars or aliens, but rather an attempt by the all pervasive corn lobby to directly replace lovable maple syrup with the insidious corn syrup which is already in every other American foodstuff (but I refuse to believe that molasses farmers or blueberry growers had anything to do with this heinous act).
Contrasting forest maple with farm corn/maize, which is surely one of the definitive agricultural crops of our time, raises interesting musings concerning the history and nature of food production. The harvesting of maple sap falls into the strange gap between farming and gathering. During the spring thaw, starches stored overwinter in maple roots rise up the trunks of the tree as an energy source for the tree’s rapid budding and flowering. The sugary sap can be harvested by “tapping” the tree—i.e. cutting a notch in the bark and filling a bucket until the buds form (at which points amino acids in the sap spoil the flavor). Once harvested, maple sap can be evaporated down into sugary syrup which is edible (or potable?) for long periods of time. Native Americans living in the natural habitat of the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) utilized this technique long before the arrival of the English, French, and Dutch, but the actual beginnings of the process are lost in myth (literally, each different tribe of the Northeast woodlands has its own myth involving culture heroes, trickster gods, or playsome squirrels).
For the people of the first nations, maple was a critical flavoring—something akin to salt or sugar—which worked its way into many dishes. Maple syrup was the dominant sweetener in Canada and the American mainland colonies (later the nascent United States) during the colonial era, but it was gradually replaced by cane sugar and molasses which were themselves supplanted by corn sweetener. Nevertheless, maple syrup has staged surprising comebacks throughout American history. During the years leading up to the civil war, abolitionists used maple syrup instead of slave-produced cane sugar as a sort of embargo. World War II saw a surge in maple syrup use as sugar was heavily rationed during the conflict. Maple sap is largely harvested from the sugar maple and the red maple which grow east of the Mississippi from Quebec down into Georgia but invasive European trees (like the monstrous Norway maple located in the garden of my previous rental flat) can also provide sugary sap—although much more is required to make syrup. Sugar maples also provide a lovely hard pale wood used for baseball bats and pool cues–so sporting people are in debt to the tree as much as breakfast enthusiasts.
I wonder if real maple flavor is as exotic in the tropics as tropical flavors like pineapple, Brazil nut, and vanilla are here? The maple industry seems to be a uniquely North American phenomenon, but the maple genus itself spread across the Northern hemisphere outward from Northeast Asia (i.e. China). Does China have a syrup industry? Is it looking to start one?
The more we look into the great maple syrup heist, the broader the international (and interplanetary?) implications seem to become. What is certain is that the traditional American breakfast has fallen under threat until these malfactors come to justice. We must rally together as a people! Only the greedy and desperate would exploit this crime for personal aggrandizement. Although, now I think of it, if your pancakes are truly dry I have some honey from my grandfather’s bee hives I could sell you, or some sorghum, or elderberry jelly. Plus I’m kind of allergic to maple anyway, and I don’t usually eat breakfast….