“How can you hate maple syrup?” the hordes asked, as they banned me from Vermont and declared me persona non grata throughout Canada. Revolted by a New York Times article celebrating ranch dressing, I had tweeted: “Plays to everything that’s wrong with the typical American palate. Even worse than maple syrup if that’s possible.”
How can I hate it? Let me count the ways. But first I’ll allow that I respect the dedication of the craftsmen producing it so devotees can pour it liberally over pancakes, waffles and maybe every other edible in sight. (While I appreciate the lore of “sugaring off,” the early spring ritual of gathering sap from maple trees, the phrase has always seemed as though it might be a euphemism for something more salacious.)
Basically, what I detest about maple syrup is everything, meaning both texture and flavor. As a rule, I do not like intense sweetness, nor do I like syrups unless diluted, as chocolate syrup in soda or honey in hot tea or as the defining ingredient in honey cake.
“But what do you put on your pancakes?” some on Twitter asked, to which I replied: “I don’t like pancakes either. Too soggy.” What I do love are crisp-on-the outside- mellow-within waffles, lightly spread with unsalted butter then topped with a light snowfall of confectioner’s sugar. Never would I sog them down with syrup!
Most of all it is maple’s flavor that bothers me, even in its most artisanally correct form, as compared to the even more insipid Log Cabin. Truth is, as a child I was beguiled by the adorable cabin-shaped can that held that brand of syrup and so I happily poured it over, what else? Pancakes! As my palate matured, I found that maple flavor tastes cheap, like penny candy, and frankly it is a taste that I do not associate with food. (Mostly when I think “maple” it is as trees that are the source of the beautifully mellow wood that distinguishes some of the best Early American and Colonial furniture, as well as for bird’s-eye maple that makes twinkling golden veneers.)
Perhaps even worse than the syrup are those little maple-leaf-shaped sugar candies sold at tourist sites throughout maple syrup country. I am not alone in this, having heard agreements from a few fellow tweeters and, long ago as I recall, from Craig Claiborne, the first New York Times food critic on whose shoulders we all stand.
But as the exception that might prove the rule: I do recall one maple-informed dish that I enjoyed enough to have several times. It was a maple-glazed roasted chicken that was the specialty of Waldy Malouf when he was chef at the bygone Hudson River Club in downtown Manhattan. Perhaps the open roasting caused the sugar to caramelize, adding a slightly bitter burnish that mitigated the awful sweetness. It also tenderized the chicken and, mingling with melted butter, kept the meat moistly supple.
Right about here I should apologize to a couple of my cherished Canadian friends (who live in New York, of course) because I keep offending them by publicly disliking so much of their native fare. That would include the thin, sweet-instead-of-salty Montreal bagels with their glassy toppings of brittle seeds, the presumptuous smoked meat claimed to outclass New York deli pastrami, and Quebec-invented totally disgusting poutine, the stultifying mess of fried potatoes smothered in thick brown gravy and clumps of melting cheese curds. But, making amends, I can say I do cherish Canada’s great smoked salmon, its tangy cheddars and, midsummer, the tiny, pungent blueberries that ripen earlier than usual, thanks to global warming.
There probably is no one around in tweet country who respects the following old admonition, but as we used to say generously, “De gustibus non est disputandum,” or, “In matters of taste, there can be no dispute.” Wanna bet?
Sheraton, former food critic at the New York Times, is author of “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die” (Workman, 2015).