Tree-Tapping Squirrels and Ooey, Gooey Deliciousness

In 1557, French cartographer André Thévet published Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique, an account containing a number of tales of the New World, gathered from men who’d been there. One of those men was Jacques Cartier, today credited with establishing a foothold for France in North America, laying claim to the country he named Canada, and for possibly being the first European to discover the ooey, gooey, deliciousness of maple syrup.

cartier
Jacques Cartier, dreaming of drinking maple syrup. By Theophile Hamel – Library and Archives Canada, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, it might not have been in an ooey, gooey form, but evidently Cartier relayed the tale to Thévet of a tree resembling a large European walnut that when felled, released a sugary liquid “as tasty and as delicate as any good wine from Orleans or Beaune.” Cartier’s party quickly filled several pots with the sweet sap and had they boiled it in those pots, they would have wanted some pancakes to go with it.

Native Americans in the area had been tapping maple trees during the Sugar Moon (the first full moon of spring) for enough years for several legends to have arisen around the practice, and North American squirrels had been doing it for even longer.

sap-collection
The squirrels may have been at it longer, but we do it better. photo credit: looseends sap season via photopin (license)

Europeans may have been late to the party, but they proved just as enthusiastic.Widely used as concentrated sugar during the 17th and 18th centuries, at around the time of the American Civil War, maple sap was largely replaced as a sweetener in American cooking by imported cane sugar. And so ooey, gooey, delicious syrup became the maple product of choice for most people (and probably squirrels).

It makes a good glaze for salmon or adds a lovely sweetness to barbecue sauce. It’s great in salad dressings, with bacon, or drizzled over nuts. And according to Yale-trained chemical engineer Edward Cusslerawarded a 2005 prestigious (sort of) Ig Nobel prize for his super science-y studyyou can even swim in it. But the best thing to do with it is to pour it over a big stack of soft, fluffy, warm, and buttery pancakes.

That’s just what my family will be doing next Tuesday. While some people may be donning masks, throwing beads, or eating cakes with a plastic baby trinket baked inside, we’ll be marking Shrove Tuesday with the traditional pancakes, smothered in ooey, gooey, syrupy deliciousness.

squirrel
Clearly up to no good. photo credit: kennethkonica “Didn’t you see the STAY AWAY sign?” via photopin (license)

Chances are, that deliciousness will come from trees in Canada, which produces about 75% of the world’s supply of maple syrup. And fortunately, they’re not going to run out anytime soon, thanks to the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, which is a real thing. Despite a notable robbery in 2012 in which 1000 tons of syrup vanished (I have to assume wily squirrels were somehow involved) and was only partially recovered, the reserve holds more than 12,000 tons of syrup in three separate warehouses throughout Quebec.

That’s probably just a little more than Cartier’s men gathered all those years ago. Now, the reserve is also a little controversial, because it’s essentially a cartel designed to control the Canadian syrup market and maintain higher prices. But it also means that if there’s a bad year for maples, my family can still observe Shrove Tuesday in style, with a big stack of soft, fluffy, warm, and buttery pancakes, smothered in ooey, gooey, syrupy deliciousness.

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9 thoughts on “Tree-Tapping Squirrels and Ooey, Gooey Deliciousness

  1. I’m totally addicted to maple syrup!! I always thought I could swim in it and now I know that I actually can! Thanks! 😄 Oh, and about the robbery? So sorry about that but me and the squirrels just had to do it 😉

  2. When I lived in Quebec (Province) I rented 17 acres of maple trees and a maple cabin where we harvested, boiled and canned the syrup for sale. Over here at the bottom of the world the real stuff costs the earth and a “pretend” sort of maple syrup is the cheaper version. I shall be joining you with pancakes on Shrove Tuesday – but it’s not the same, for we shall be content with ooey, gooey golden syrup. It’s not the same!

    Enjoyed the painting of Jacques Cartier (on his cell phone!)

  3. Pancakes sound good to me!!! And yes, syrup makes it. Would you believe my husband never heated his syrup before he met me? His mom always just made pancakes and would hand them the container at room temperature. Warm syrup is the best!

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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