Outside/In: Mysteries in the Woods

Jun 22, 2018

On today's show, two stories about mysterious things in the woods: mushrooms and maple. First, if you want to eat wild mushrooms - and lots of people do - you have to go into the forest and find them yourself. But that can get dangerous... fast. Then, maple syrup, the quintessential North American product, is in the midst of a radical shift... but a shift toward what? 

Pick Your Poison

In our long, evolutionary history, modernity is just a blip. The wiring of our brains took place over hundreds of thousands of years of hunting and gathering food out in the wilderness, and nothing proves that more vividly than the practice of mushroom hunting. It’s incredibly addictive, even to those who know all too well the associated dangers.

The difference between those mushrooms and the ones you find in your grocery stores (besides not tasting like styrofoam) is that wild mushrooms can’t be cultivated. So if you want to eat wild mushrooms—and lots of people do because they’ve got way more interesting mushroomy flavors—you have to go into the forest and find them yourself. But that's where the danger lies. 

Listen to Pick Your Poison

The Forest for the Treesap

The process of making maple syrup is slow. Sap runs on its own time and only when the weather is just right. Native people used to slash maple trees, gather the sap that dribbled out of them in birch baskets, and boil off the water by plopping hot rocks inside, leaving behind the concentrated sugar. Colonial Europeans didn’t alter the process much. Holes drilled into trees filled — drip by drip —  buckets that had to be gathered by hand, hauled back home and boiled for hours or days, until roughly 40 gallons of sap were reduced to one gallon of syrup.

For a very long time, this was how all of the nation’s maple was processed: with massive effort and huge expense of time. But for most of the syrup on your table, this is not what its early life looks like anymore.

Changes are coming to New England’s sugar bushes. And the very identity of a product that we’ve been crafting in basically the same way for centuries, could be on the verge of a radical shift. But a shift towards what?

Listen to The Forests for the Treesap