Friday, March 12, 2010

The Syrup Dispute of 1956: Maple Festival and Taste-Off

By: Kajsa Sabatke, Manager of Public Programs
I’m not sure how The Farmers’ Museum became the site of the taste-off to settle an international maple syrup dispute in 1956. I do know that staff had already been preparing for the museum’s first maple festival as a way to support contemporary agriculture. The festival was originally planned to be simple and to last just one day. As a result of the syrup dispute, however, the staff expanded the festival to two days and added more activities, including contests for maple-related recipes and products, as well as an essay contest for schoolchildren. Governor Harriman also crowned the Maple Festival Queen.
Of all the states invited by Governor Harriman, all but one (New Hampshire) and Quebec submitted entries for the taste-off. The governors of both New York and Vermont attended the first day of the festival. Three taste-offs were held that weekend: Governor Harriman sponsored a cup for the official taste-off judged by five newspaper food editors; New York maple producers offered a Producer’s Cup to be awarded from a vote taken by producers; and a final tasting of the general public pulled from the day’s attendees was provided by The Farmers’ Museum, who donated the Consumers’ Cup.
As a sign of goodwill, the two governors exchanged maple trees from their respective states. Governor Harriman accepted the gift of the Vermont tree and both governors ceremoniously planted that tree on the tavern green at the museum where you can still see it today. Our farmers use that tree for a portion of the sap that we use to boil down to syrup during Sugaring Off Sundays at the museum. A tree from New York was also sent back to Vermont with Governor Johnson.

I think I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Which state/province won? The governor-sponsored taste off of the unmarked syrup ended in a tie for first between Vermont and Michigan samples. (New York placed a respectable 3rd.) New York also made a comeback the second day of the festival, when producers from New York won both the Consumers’ and the Producer’s Cups.

All images are from The Daily Star (Oneonta, NY), April 7, 1956.

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