I spent this past weekend in Vermont for a friend’s wedding. On the drive back home, we passed a shop for a local farm with a huge sign boasting the sale of the greatest sugar known to man: maple syrup. We sampled their specialties, opened up the machine they use to boil the syrup, and peeked into the stockroom. While Dave learned about the process, I hatched a complicated plan to steal an armful of the sweetener. It was a poor strategy involving a messy distraction and a broken window, so I decided to just settle for visiting the store.
I’m particular about my syrup. I’ve never eaten a meal with fake maple syrup—that disgusting concoction made from corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Growing up, I had more than what I needed, but we didn’t have a lot of room for luxuries. We ate our share of store-brand cereal and carried last year’s backpack to the first day of school. Maple syrup, however—the real kind that comes from a tree and has only one ingredient on the label—was always in the fridge. My parents made plenty of sacrifices to get our family to the place we are now, but my dad wouldn’t make that one.
It seems small. That one little splurge didn’t break the bank. It was just a standard he’d set for himself, for us. And, really, you can’t back down on those kinds of things. A life without the little wonders isn’t worth living. Plus, how much syrup could we actually have been eating each month? Ok, probably a lot, because my sister used to douse every breakfast item on her plate with it. Still, it was a small indulgence with a major payoff. And it stuck.
I’ve annoyed plenty of waiters with my questions about the syrup served at breakfast joints. Many a confusing interaction has begun with my query of,” So, do you have real maple syrup?” I usually get a perplexed look from the waiter and a response about how they think so and that it’s just the normal kind. Once someone responded with, “Yeah, it comes from the bottle shaped like a lady.” Amateur. If the waiter doesn’t know the answer to this question, I assume they serve maple-flavored corn syrup. Then I don’t order pancakes because that’s disgusting.
This shop had the real deal—walls lined from top to bottom with gallons of it. Sometimes people ask me if I want to go wine tasting or get a flight at a brewery. I usually just nod my head and pretend I can tell the difference between each sip. At this tasting session, I was on top of it. I sampled each grade, carefully noting their hues and flavors. I was an expert. I’d been training my whole life for that moment.