By Mike Cote
WILL FERRELL pouring maple syrup on a big plate of spaghetti is one of the most memorable scenes from “Elf,” the 2003 Christmas classic that will be streaming in American homes throughout the holidays.
It’s the ultimate product placement for New Hampshire’s liquid gold.
The Granite State is a small-time player compared to the top-ranked maple producers, but the tapping season attracts tourists every spring to visit sugar houses, gift shops and maple-themed breakfast restaurants.
When Buddy asks one of his newly found family members to pass the maple syrup, he remembers that he has a tiny glass bottle of the sweet stuff tucked inside the sleeve of his fuzzy green coat.
Maple syrup producers could not have asked for a better spokes-elf.
Buddy prefers 100% genuine maple syrup. He would never top his pasta with artificially flavored corn syrup goop.
Only a cotton-headed ninny-muggins would do that.
Buddy is still keeping the maple magic flowing the next morning when he serves a special breakfast to his stepmom. This time he’s armed with a larger bottle that has a big red leaf on the label.
Mrs. Butterworth would kill for that kind of screen time, or at least pay handsomely for it.
Buddy might want to go easy with the syrup on the pasta this Christmas. Production was off in 2021 by 17% nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Warm weather during the prime sugaring season and low sugar content in tree sap made the season short and not so sweet.
There’s still plenty of syrup to go around, though, thanks in part to a giant stockpile hoarded by the world’s largest source of syrup.
Quebec Maple Syrup Producers says it’s draining nearly 50 million pounds of syrup from barrels in its strategic reserve — about half of its stockpile, Bloomberg reported this month. Quebec accounts for about 70% of the world’s supply.
Output was down 24% in Quebec this year, while demand soared worldwide, thanks to pandemic-fueled maple mania.
Vermont, which produced 1.54 million gallons in 2021, has been America’s largest producer for all but two years since 1916, according to the U.S.D.A.
New Hampshire, the fifth largest producer in the U.S., made 127,000 gallons.
As in Quebec, production was down in both states — 21% in Vermont, 17% in New Hampshire.
Controlling the flow
David Kemp, who operates Yankee Maple in Jaffrey, said his business has done well this year.
“While production was down slightly, sales have been good,” said Kemp, who serves as president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.
Kemp and business partner Donald Stewart have been making maple syrup commercially since 1984. They produced about 300 gallons this year.
Yankee Maple always sells out of whatever it makes, Kemp said. There’s not enough syrup produced by local sugar houses to keep up with demand. So the state needs to augment its supply from Maine, Vermont or Quebec.
“The fact of the matter is New Hampshire actually sells more syrup than they produce. So it has to come from somewhere,” he said.
Kemp has mixed feelings about how Quebec controls the flow of maple.
“Quebec tends to be a socialist kind of program. Being from New Hampshire I tend to be independent, and I’d rather do things my own way,” he said. “But you do have to admit that it works well. If not for Quebec’s reserve, there would be a lot of people out of syrup.”
Kemp has been tapping maple trees since he was a kid.
“We had a couple of maple trees in the backyard. I started in a very small way with a wood fire in the backyard,” he said.
He and Stewart started with a simple setup before they invested in a commercial evaporator and other professional equipment.
“It’s a great hobby. I think we started with 30 taps the first year. We got bit by the bug, and we just kept growing and growing,” he said. “The two of us, we do about 1,300 taps now. That’s enough for us.”
Kemp is familiar with “Elf” and chuckled at the notion that it’s a great promotion for the maple industry. When I told him I watched the film at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning with my granddaughters, he wasn’t buying the alibi. “Use the granddaughters for an excuse, OK,” he said with a laugh.
He’s happy to hear about ways to champion the state’s maple producers.
“Maple is something that runs pretty dear to my heart. We spend a lot of time trying to help folks promote the industry,” Kemp said. “I’d rather be making maple syrup than growing marijuana. That’s just my nature.”