|Maple Syrup and French Toast is a lovely pairing indeed;
just ask the folks at Upper Arlington’s South of Lane
Many food traditions have made their way across the oceans to the Americas over the vast expanses of time and been adapted to the local climate, but there are a few distinct things that remain almost exclusively from this region.
One of those traditions derives from the Acer Saccharum tree, more commonly known as the Sugar Maple. Found exclusively in Midwest and Northeast portions of the United States and the Southeast portions of Canada, the sap from this tree has been tapped and refined to create maple syrup.
I had been one who never knew the pleasures of genuine maple syrup as a kid – my pancakes were often accompanied by the artificial stuff (Golden Griddle was a common sight in my refrigerator.) I had heard so much about the genuine stuff, and figured my first trip into Canada (the largest exporter of maple syrup to the world at large) would be my first purchase of what was for me something of a luxury.
Returning from that trip, the first pairing with some of my Dad’s basic Bisquick-created pancakes was beyond heavenly. Maple syrup is now almost a must now when it comes to things like pancakes and waffles, and my spouse and I have used it in a number of baking recipes to give them a nice maple-tinge.
So with sugaring season in full effect at this moment, we here decided a playlist dedicated to this golden elixir was pretty much a natural (playlist embedded at the end of this post.)
1) “Trees” – Earwig: Lead singer/guitarist Lizard McGee, from Columbus’s own Earwig, gave pandemic-bound folks something to watch last summer, as one of the many flamboyant folks on the ABC TV reality-meets-golf show “Holey Moley.” But it’s not golf that draws locals to Lizard and his band Earwig; rather, it’s their hard-driving hard rockers like “Trees” off their 2014 “Gibson Under Mountain” album. The lyrics sport the very syrup-appropriate stanza “These trees turn black in winter/And sap runs through my veins/From these decisions that I haven’t decided/Just mistakes that I’ve made.”
2) “Love & Maple Syrup” – Gordon Lightfoot: I mean, what Canadian wouldn’t wax eloquently about maple syrup, and Gordon Lightfoot (best known for hits like “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “If You Could Read My Mind”) is no exception. From the 1971 album “Summer Side Of Life”, Lightfoot’s ode includes the lines “Love and maple syrup goes together/Like the sticky winds of winter when they meet/When lonely lovers come to rest/Beneath the trees they do their best.”
3) “Playing Guitars” – Jim White: Waffles and maple syrup have proven to be a natural pairing; this breakfast staple here is represented by the country/folk/gospel-influenced Jim White, who cut several albums for the Luaka Bop and Yep Roc labels before releasing the “Waffles, Triangles and Jesus” album in 2017 for Loose. “Playing Guitars” is a rollicking Americana-style number on what proved to be a more reflective album for the Pensacola-born White, who grew up in a deeply Pentecostal household
4) “Moonlight in Vermont” – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: Vermont is by far the largest state producer in the United States, averaging roughly two million gallons per year. Originally recorded in 1944, jazz legends Fitzgerald and Armstrong released their version of “Moonlight in Vermont” (which interestingly, has lyrics that do not rhyme, nor do they mention maple syrup) in 1956.
5) “NDN Kars (Remix)” – Keith Secola and The Halluci Nation: unsurprisingly, the indigenous peoples of North America learned to tap maple trees as a food source long before the Europeans made it over to this side of the pond. For the Ojibwe nation, residing mainly around the Great Lakes in what is now southern Canada and the northern Midwest of the United States, maple syrup harvesting has remained vital in preserving both the culture and their sovereignty over their lands. Representing this part of history is Ojibwe Tribe member Secola, who is one of the select Native Americans who have made their mark in the world of contemporary rock, folk and blues music.
6) “Philadelphia Chickens” – The Bacon Brothers: they say everything is better with bacon, but even bacon is better with a little glaze of caramelized maple syrup, as many breakfast-goers can attest. We don’t need but one degree of separation for the musical representative here in the Bacon Brothers, the musical outlet for actor Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael since 1995. “Philadelphia Chickens” is a bit of a departure for this pop-rock-oriented duo, bringing them into the swing realm for the title track for “Sandra Boynton’s Philadelphia Chickens” collection, touted as “an imaginary musical revue.”
7) “Black-Haired Québécoise” – Old Crow Medicine Show: when it comes to “Le Grand Kahuna” of maple syrup production, one need only look at the province of Quebec, which produces over 90% of Canada’s supply and roughly 75% to the entire world. Any proper Québécoise would have pride in this fact, not to mention “a worn out Yank with an empty tank”, from whose viewpoint the Nashville-based alt-country stars Old Crow Medicine Show sing about. This number was one of the two previously unreleased songs included in their 2017 “Best of The Old Crow Medicine Show” compilation album.
8) “Pancakes and Syrup” – Biz Markie: of course, this is the classic combination most people think of when it comes to maple syrup, and that combo is something that starts for most as a child. Speaking of children, Nickleodeon’s “Yo Gabba Gabba” combines music, puppets, and a number of regular segments and special guests as a way to give kids knowledge and the urge to dance. Biz Markie (best known for his monster rap hit “You Got What I Need”) provided beatboxing beats for his “Beat of the Day” segment, and also provided the voice behind this playful tune.
9) “Sugarbush Cushman” – Poi Dog Pondering: Originating in Hawaii, the eclectic worldbeat sounds of Poi Dog Pondering (or PDP for short) have earned them a cult following over the decades, despite some clashes with their record labels (their first major label Columbia were not too happy with their demos, which helped lead to PDP to eventually creating their own label Platetectonic for their music.) Their early 4-track cassette albums have been recently released on CD and streaming in 2020, including this original version of “Sugarbush Cushman”, which tells the story of of a gal who lives “Way up high where the maple trees grow/She says “I’m from Vermont and I loves the snow”/In her floppy French cap, seated beneath the maple tree/Drinking down the sap, not a care in the world”
10) “C’est Magnifique (Remastered)” – Kay Starr: According to some authorities, the Iroquois Nation were the first to figure out the harvesting of maple syrup. One legend states that Iroquois Chief Woksis had struck a tree with his axe during a hunting excursion; the sap which flowed was then collected by members of the tribe for use in cooking that day’s hunt. The sweet taste imparted to the meat proved to be a revelation, and tribe members soon added maple sap to their daily diet. Perhaps surprisingly to some, Starr, one the biggest singers of the 1940s and 1950s, sported both Irish and Iroquois heritage. While jazz was her primary musical focus, she branched into other genres, such as her version of this number from the 1953 Broadway musical “Can-Can.”
11) “Katalina” – Sagaldo: Perhaps more than any place in the Columbus metro, Katalina’s (with two locations in Clintonville and Harrison West) has taken the humble pancake and syrup combo to an entirely new level, with their now famous Pancake Balls (filled with your choice of Dulce de Leche, Nutella, or Pumpkin-Apple Butter) paired up with Milligan’s (based out of Amesville, Ohio) Bourbon-Barrel Aged Syrup. As a nod to this delicious dish, we use this song from Sagaldo, a Cameroonian artist now based out of the United States.
12) “Taffy Butt” – Cyndi Lauper: A huge tradition in Canada and parts of New England, Maple Syrup Taffy is made by boiling maple tree sap to a temperature that lies between that which forms syrup and that which forms maple butter or sugar. The liquid is then poured onto clean white snow, where it forms a soft-textured candy which is generally eaten fresh. Representing this sweet treat is all-around talent Cyndi Lauper, who lends her unique vocal stylings to this number for the soundtrack to the cartoon cult hit Bob’s Burgers.
13) “That Summer Feeling” – Beth Orton: With maple syrup sugaring season in full effect right now, it only seemed right to have a song from Orton’s 2012 album “The Sugaring Season” on this playlist. After collaborating with groups like Sam Amidon, The Chemical Brothers, and William Orbit, Orton took her folktronica sound on a solo basis, including this cover of a 1983 Jonathan Richman song.
14) “Maple Leaf Rag” – Scott Joplin: We close out this maple-themed playlist with one of the most familiar modern piano tunes in the world. The so-called “King of Ragtime”, the Texarkana-raised African-American composer Joplin created over one-hundred ragtime pieces during his career, including this ditty which has become over time the archetypical ragtime tune. His death in 1917 essentially ended the ragtime craze, with big band swing eventually taking over as the predominant musical style.