The Great Maple Syrup Debate of 1956
Ahh… Maple syrup and pancakes just make people happy, don’tcha think? I was thinking about this recently because we are now moving into the Maple sugaring season in the Hudson Valley which is a big ta-do around here. Many local sugar shacks open up to the public as a great family outing to see how the trees are tapped and the syrup created.
I can’t help but wonder though, about its origins. Apparently the Native Americans were the first to discover this sugary confection after they took a hatchet to a maple tree. One of them somehow must have thought it was a good idea to lick the hatchet and got a taste of the sap. They obviously didn’t have a mother like mine yelling, “Don’t lick that off your knife – you’ll cut your tongue!” Maple syrup became a hot commodity after that and people hoarded the stuff like they were gold bricks. They probably were all dazed and confused from the sugar rush.
Well, that’s when the sweet trouble started. Canada boasted that they sold the most maple syrup lording it over us in the Northeast and got a little too big for their sugar britches. They weren’t laughing when a thief with “sticky fingers” broke into the country’s major reserve and stole $30 million dollars worth of this sweet gold. Somehow these sweet tooth bandits emptied over 15,000 barrels of syrup and pumped them into tanker trucks stealing over 900,000 gallons. Can you just imagine these sticky bandits trying to get rid of an ocean’s worth of the stuff on the black market? “Psssttt… hey…. Hungry Jack… c’mon over here and see what I got in my truck…”
Thus began the hotly debated, “Maple Syrup Dispute of 1956” between the state of New York and the State of Vermont. Apparently in January of 1956 Governor William Harriman adopted the sugar maple as the state tree which did not make the Vermont Governor, Joseph Johnson, happy at all since he had already declared it as Vermont’s state tree. Can you just imagine two grown men arguing over a tree? Must be all that maple sugar whipping them into a cranky sugar high. Anyways, Johnson poked fun at Harriman sending him a snarky telegram slamming New York syrup and offering to share the state tree if New York could prove that its syrup was even half as good as Vermont’s. This of course put a bee in Harriman’s bonnet and he challenged Johnson to a syrup taste off like they were a couple of outlaws dueling over the sweet tooth damsel in distress.
Well that did it! The New Hampshire Governor got mad and threw his hat in the ring stating that they produced better syrup than both Vermont AND New York saying they “wouldn’t dare to match sweetness with New Hampshire”. Maine got ornery and wanted in, followed by Pennsylvania when it all broke loose in a sappy gooey mess. Nine states and Canada showed up in a sugar showdown of sappy proportions all claiming rights to the maple syrup throne of superiority. After almost everyone was in a sugar coma from the blind taste test and it ended up as a tie between Vermont and Michigan with New York placing a yummy runner up.
This was the very first Maple Festival in upstate New York that began a sweet and fun tradition year after year. So if you’ve never been to any of the Hudson Valley’s Maple Sugar Houses I highly recommend them as a fun afternoon family adventure that can only end in sweetness.