By Vicky Babcock
Maple’s Sticky Gold
On a hot morning in July 2012, Michel Gauvreau, an accountant with Veragrimar, arrived to inventory a warehouse full of maple syrup owned by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The building, located in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, held around 16,000 barrels of syrup, stacked six high and hundreds deep. Each full barrel weighed 650 pounds—a value of $1,800, nearly 13 times the price of crude oil. This particular warehouse held about 1/10th of Quebec’s annual production, a vast sea of the nation’s “sticky gold.” It was not a setting for drama, yet unbeknownst to the principal players, the scene had already been set.
Michel was scaling the barrels when he nearly fell as a barrel shifted beneath his weight. Catching his balance, he rocked the barrel. Empty. The first of many. Gauvreau notified the Federation, who arrived to investigate. Upon opening a barrel, they found not a brown, goopy liquid redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.
Sixty percent—six million pounds—of syrup had vanished, about $18 million dollars, wholesale. The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist was a blow to Canada, which makes approximately 80 percent of the world’s production. It would be months before the Federation would have any answers. To siphon off and transport that amount of syrup alone would have required more than 100 tractor trailers.*
Canada prides itself on its maple syrup and its maples, and the maple leaf is an icon featured on their coins, military uniforms and their country’s flag. Ten species of maple are native to Canada and markets there produce maple sugar, maple butter, maple pork rub, maple vinaigrette, maple coffee, maple tea and yes, maple perfume.
On a smaller scale here in Michigan we have our own maple industry and it’s Pure Michigan! According to the Michigan Maple Syrup Association, our state ranks fifth in maple syrup production in the country with an average production of about 90,000 gallons per year. Maple sap collection usually begins in February and runs about six weeks, although in the U.P. it can run well into April. Temperatures play a part in the production, as the tree needs a combination of warm days and freezing nights for the sap to run. Timing is also important, as the sugar content is highest in late winter to early spring. When the trees come into bud, the sap is unpalatable. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Native Americans introduced European settlers to the practice of collecting and reducing the sap, although the settlers refined the process. Its discovery is uncertain; however, popular lore speaks of an Indian chief who carelessly embedded his hatchet into the trunk of a maple tree. The tree yielded its sap, which was collected by the chief’s squaw and used to cook their meal. This pleased the chief and so began our love affair with maple syrup, most often used today to enhance the flavor of our pancakes and waffles.
Unlike sugar, maple syrup contains an abundant amount of naturally occurring minerals, including calcium, manganese, potassium and magnesium. It is also a source of antioxidants, which have been shown to aid the immune system, lower blood pressure and slow the effects of aging.
Michigan made maple syrup can be found in farmers markets throughout the State from June through August—or until the last pint is gone. Better hurry though, the Michigan Maple Syrup Association tells us that maple syrup is one of the few Michigan crops where demand exceeds supply!
*For more on this story, Google “The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist,” by Brendan Borrell. Much of the information in this article was gleaned from this source.
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