Sunday, April 10, 2011

Illustration Friday: Bottled.... Sweet Memories

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

Grandma Coco has a shelf in the pantry of her heart where she stores great memories. They’re all up there in big glass bottles and she can just pull one down any time she wants. Some of them are joyful…the kind you might like to relive time and again. And some of them are sad… but you would never want to forget those times either.

This week’s Illustration Friday topic, Bottled, rang a different bell for us because we’re in the very earliest days of spring here in the Kingdom of Coco. It’s the time of year when you can get a true promise-of-spring day followed by big, wet “sugar snow” the next.

Sugar snow is what my mother used to call the big, fat flakes that fall during the maple syrup season. And that’s what we’re in right now….Sugar Season.

We made a new friend this week and in her honour, we’re celebrating that season since her husband is “sugaring off” in the old-fashioned way that we remember from our childhood. Anna’s husband is collecting the sap in buckets and boiling it down over a wood fire. He’s only aiming for a small quantity of syrup but it will be all the better, no doubt, because of that.

When we were kids, although we lived in maple syrup territory, we usually had corn syrup on our pancakes.  Maybe the artificial stuff had yet to hit our supermarkets. Or maybe it just didn’t taste very good. Corn syrup was cheap and plentiful.

That is not to say that we didn’t have real maple syrup once in a while. Each year in early spring when the weather warmed up during the day so that the sap could run and then dropped below freezing during the night, my dad would take us on an excursion to find real maple syrup.

We’d drive up and down old country roads. Some years we’d just drive up to some old farmhouse and buy syrup from a farmer and sometimes we’d hit the mother lode and be driving by a sugar shack when it was in operation. That was way more interesting to us kids than just handing over money on a doorstep.

Either way, the syrup was always bottled in recycled liquor bottles. The Women’s Temperance League was still in full swing all over the countryside and yet there was never any shortage of empty liquor bottles for the syrup. (If you were wondering…. That’s the "bottled" connection that ricocheted around our brain.)

The government didn’t get involved in maple syrup production or sales way back then. They left it to the grownups who had been feeding themselves all their lives not to do anything stupid and poison each other. Amazingly, it worked out pretty well.
Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2011

So, my dad would buy a bottle of real honest-to-goodness maple syrup and off we’d go. Sunday morning, Dad would make French toast or Mom would make pancakes - they each had their specialty – and the crowning glory would be pure maple syrup. Kids were never allowed to pour the syrup. Mom and Dad were on to us. They made that bottle last as long as possible because there wouldn’t be any more until the next spring. We never felt deprived when we went back to plain old corn syrup. The maple syrup was a seasonal treat. No one expected it to be on our table year round.

Things were different in Mr. Coco’s household. His father helped out at a sugar shack. As he got older, Mr. Coco helped out, too. They didn’t take money for their labour. They got paid in syrup! So they had lots. One of the most astonishing things we ever witnessed was the first time we saw Mr. Coco’s mother pour syrup on her pancakes. She poured a river of syrup….no, an ocean! And Mother Coco was about as thrifty a housewife as you could ever imagine. It was amazing.

Nowadays, you can buy real maple syrup in any grocery store and we always have some on hand. It doesn’t taste the same. There’s no smoky flavour, for starters, and it doesn’t have that really satisfying taste that comes from seasonal deprivation.

But it’s still good.


  1. Fabulous artwork... fabulous story. When I was in early high school, my brother went away for a summer and came back with the maple syrup. First time I had ever tasted the 'real thing'... amazing difference than what you find now in the stores.

  2. Loved the illustrations and loved the story. It is nice to remember happy times from so long ago. Thanks for sharing those "jars" of memory. I grew up on cane syrup here in the south!

  3. That was a great story. ; ) I LOVE that liquid gold. mmmmm

    : )
    who hasn't had the smoky version...

  4. I'm with everyone above—lovely story and amazing illustrations. I can't remember the name of children's book but I grew up with one all about sugaring—had horses and all the boiling, bottling etc. I loved it (I probably still have it) and I love your interpretation.

    And thank you for stopping by my blog!! It's been crazy and I haven't been visiting so I'm always so glad when folks comment because I go visiting. And for some reason your comments go into "spam" and I deleted your comment by mistake, but make no mistake thank you for stopping!


Grandma Coco welcomes your comments. Thanks for taking the time to leave a message. Because we know we'll get spam, we're reminding everybody not to click on any link in the comments section. Just ignore the spammers and maybe they'll go away. Ha!