25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Maple syrup

My family eats a huge amount of maple syrup, and lately, I've had to carefully budget our purchases. I have a whopping $50 per month set aside for sweeteners, and between the disappearance of bees and the rising prices of maple syrup, it doesn't go as far as you'd think.

Lately, maple syrup prices have skyrocketed. Last year was a terrible year for maple syrup, but what happened in 2007 was the real killer: Canadian reserves were exhausted (did you know there were maple syrup reserves? There are!) and prices went up 30%. So last year, when the season turned out terrible, prices went up steeply, 70% for some grades. Now maple syrup watchers (like me) are nervously wondering whether the 2009 season will make up for past seasons; and whether prices will, finally, go down.

Due to the overwhelming tightening of supply and the increase in prices, Cracker Barrel went to 55% maple syrup and 45% cane syrup in its "100% Pure Natural Syrup" at its Old Country Store restaurants; a move the company insisted was not at all motivated by cost, but by supply (hmmm, really? nothing to do with cost?).

As restaurants wavered in the face of prices nearing $100 per gallon, many quietly took the stuff off the menu.

Will maple syrup vanish from America? Perhaps the prices have driven the delicious natural syrup off many families' shelves, and diluted the offerings at Cracker Barrel restaurants, but the state of the maple market is actually a great thing for American supplies, which have been steadily rising in the past decade or so and will likely multiply in the coming few years as Vermont sugarbushes step up to fill in the holes left by Canadian supplies. On March 9, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, and New York Representative John McHugh, introduced a bill to help small producers nationwide get access to trees on private land and to create centralized storage and bottling plants. If the bill works as they hope, sales will quadruple from $65 million to $260 million.

I, for one, will be buying. Will you?

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