Friday, March 5, 2010

Sappy Puns + the Syrup Dispute of 1956

By: Kajsa Sabatke, Manager of Public Programs
Until last week, I had no idea that in 1956, a multi-state (and multi-nation) dispute over maple syrup was settled at a maple festival in Cooperstown at The Farmers’ Museum. I also hadn’t realized just how many puns could be created by the journalists who documented the story during its four-month duration. I heard about the festival from a coworker who saw it mentioned in a Director’s Report for the New York State Historical Association and quickly began uncovering the details through the New York Times archives, a couple of local newspapers (the Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal and the Oneonta Daily Star), and the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire. My favorite article title came from the Times: “Syrup Tiff Oozes Into Sweet Talk: New York, Vermont Get Off Limb but Maine and Canada Hack Away Over Maple.” Are you intrigued yet? Here’s the boiled down version of the story, at least as much as I’ve been able to piece together in the last week:


In January of1956, Governor William Averell Harriman asked the New York Legislature to officially adopt the sugar maple as the state tree, thereby formally accepting the votes of New York schoolchildren who had chosen the tree to represent the state on Arbor Day in 1889. The sugar maple was already the state tree of Wisconsin, West Virginia, and neighboring Vermont. Upon hearing about the proposal, Vermont’s Governor Joseph B. Johnson sent Harriman a telegram poking fun at 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. In response, Harriman challenged Johnson to a “free and fair” taste-off of syrups.

After the initial exchange between the two states, other officials jumped into the dispute. The governor of New Hampshire claimed that the state produced better syrup than both Vermont and New York, argued that the two states “wouldn’t dare to match sweetness with New Hampshire.” A Canadian syrup exporter, in response, declared that 75% of Quebec’s annual syrup crop was exported to New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont (hinting, I assume – although I didn’t see the original statement – that the U.S. syrup must not be that great if they were buying so much syrup from Canada). Maine then jumped into the action when a State Development Department official pointed out that 750,000 pounds of that 25,000,000 the Canadians claimed to export came from Maine, where Canadian crews came to tap and cook the sap.

In the end, as a result of all the claims to syrup superiority, Governor Harriman invited the governors of nine other states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) along with the premier of Quebec to attend the New York State Maple Festival in April, the first such festival organized by The Farmers’ Museum, and bring samples of their best syrup for a taste-off.

And who won this competition? I’ll tell you next week in my next post. In the meantime, please stop by The Farmers’ Museum this Sunday for the first of our Sugaring Off Sundays. (Facebook fans will get a free token to ride the carousel!)

4 comments:

Emily said...

But I want to know NOWWWWW!!! I hope NH won - its my personal favorite: Grade B DARK. :)

Kajsa Sabatke said...

Sorry, Emily, you're just going to have to wait. I will tell you, though, that of all the states invited for the taste off, only one did not submit an entry. And that was the home of your favorite Grade B dark...

Stephen said...

Go figure, just today I'm going through our barn and found a small old open ended cardboard box. Slid inside is a wooden maple syrup sample viewing box containing 4 small (2oz maybe) glass bottles filled with maple syrup. Written in pen on the outside of the wooden viewing box is the year 1956. I go online and type in "1956 syrup" and up comes this page.. How wierd.
I should mention that our barn is next, and on the same property, to the original M.E. Small maple sugar house in Holderness NH, and this is no doubt one of his from 1956.
When we bought the place, with it came many news paper articles about the sugar house and how Mr Small was the New Hampshire state champion syrup maker for many years around that time.
The barn still has all sorts of old stuff from those days, and it all came with the purchase of the property.

Incidentally, Holderness is where the movie On Golden Pond was filmed. Squam lake is minutes away.

blog team said...

Thanks for all of your comments! Great story, Stephen!

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