Making the Grade

Tapping into the maple syrup class system.
Illustration by brad fitzpatrick

Growing up, I only knew of syrup that came in bottles shaped like old women wearing aprons. Thankfully, when I moved to New Hampshire, my eyes were opened to the purest form of the sweet, golden nectar known as maple syrup.

My initial encounter with maple syrup culture was as a kid, when I saw a long row of tapped trees along a main street in Jaffrey, NH. The many intravenous tubes connected to the trees looked like an American Red Cross Sap Drive was in progress. However, I suspected I might have been wrong when I noticed none of the trees were wearing “I Donated a Gallon” T-shirts.

The first time I tasted New Hampshire maple syrup years later was nothing short of life-changing. It was an intense sensory experience where I imagined hundreds of fairies prancing around the maple maypole and doing the “tap” dance up and down glorious maple trees. Then again, this was also the morning I tried my first jolt of coffee. Nevertheless, I now had proof New Hampshire maple syrup was the way to go. It was better than the Mrs. Butterworth’s I grew up with, and markedly better than Massachusetts pine syrup.

The origin of tree tapping in New England is unclear, and many theories abound. In the hope of putting all the current theories to rest, it’s my belief tree tapping was most likely discovered by a Native American who had futilely tried to hang up a birdhouse he built in shop class.

"You could put Grade B on your pancakes, but people may assume you’ve fallen on hard times."

In case you weren’t aware, the world of maple syrup is a microcosm with its own class system. The upper echelon of syrup society is your Grade A Light Amber, with a lighter, cleaner flavor that is often referred to as Fancy Grade. Similar to the one-percenters, this syrup comes in smaller batches. From there, the syrup deepens in color and maple flavor to Grade A Medium Amber and then to Grade A Dark Amber, the more middle class varietals, but equally as important.

If you ever received As all throughout school and then got a B, it’s not the end of the world — but it ain’t that great either. The same can be said about the least palatable of the maple syrup series: Grade B. This grade is usually hailed for having a quality that is more ideal for cooking, which sounds pretty good, unless you’re a wine. You, of course, could still put Grade B on your pancakes, but people may assume you’ve fallen on hard times. 

True maple lovers don’t stop at syrup, and that’s OK, because the maple varieties in New Hampshire are endless. You can sear-up some maple bacon, sip on a maple liquor, sample some maple candy and then work off your food coma in a maple rocking chair. Now only if Dunkin’ Donuts made maple-flavored coffee, I could stop making my own and get on with my life.

In the face of a rapidly changing world, the authentic tradition of maple syrup will remain a treasured part of New Hampshire identity and culture. It’s for this reason I propose that New Hampshire adopts the Maple Syrup Bottle as its state mascot. The state just isn’t the same since the Old Man retired from his position as Living State Icon, and we’re already halfway there because the New Hampshire territory looks like a misshapen jug of syrup anyway.

I guess time will tell. Until then, I’m going to try to see the syrup bottle half-full.

Categories: Humor