A chapter on maple syrup-makers in Vermont documents “sugaring-off” parties, a day in the maple syrup season in rural Vermont when sugar-makers invite all comers to their “sugarhouse” to the taste the freshly-boiled maple syrup/sugar, turned into candy in the snow. Essential to this Vermont experience were fresh brown doughnuts and sour dill pickles. Roaldus Richmond, the author of this chapter writes:
The hot sugar is ladled onto the snow in fantastic patterns, quickly hardening into brittle amber pools against the white. The sugar is taken up with forks, wound around the tines, and lifted to the mouth. The taste is indescribable. It is rich and smooth and pleasing, delicate and pure. It is not sickish-sweet, yet sweet enough to require the sour bitterness of pickles to re-sharpen the appetite from time to time…Crisp plain doughnuts help temper the sweetness and strong hot coffee tops off the feast.
Maple syrup, doughnuts and coffee sound explicable and obvious; pickles and maple syrup is a historical flavour combination that I’d never considered. So I got out a dill pickle and dipped it in maple syrup (pictured below). They’re the only two American foods in my pantry, so I should have known that they could work together.
There are no two flavours that do a better job of cancelling each other out. With a little experimentation into the correct concentration of pickle to syrup, you could construct a pickle dish that tastes like nothing at all but full of good pickle texture; a textural amalgam of yielding and crunchiness. You wouldn’t achieve much at all from this. While palate-cleansing is a worthy pursuit, there is no glory in tasteless food.
Maple syrup production in Vermont is in decline. Winters are getting warmer and so maple syrup production is creeping north into Canada. Kurlansky writes that where “in the first half of the twentieth century 80 percent of maple syrup production was from the United States, today 75 percent is Canadian”. As it slips north, maybe pickles and syrup will no longer exist together.”