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Maple Grands-pères for Grandparents Day

These soft dumplings cooked in maple syrup must have made for good comfort food after a day of hard labor. But why are they named for grandfathers?

Maple syrup, courtesy of Flickr user stevecoutts

For some reason, Grandparents Day has never gotten the attention that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have. This is a shame, because grandparents rule. This year the holiday threatens to be even more forgotten than usual, as it falls on September 11. (I will assume you have not been under a rock for the past decade and understand the significance of the date.)

Today is also my maternal grandfather’s birthday. He died five years ago, at the age of 92. Grandpa Harold was a retired furniture maker, and every so often he would threaten to go back to work—he hated being unproductive. He liked watching boxing matches and playing cards. He got a kick out of watching Sesame Street, long after my brother and I grew out of it. He continued going to the gym regularly well into his 80s; I think it was mostly for the social interaction.

If I were going to make a meal in honor of my grandfather, it would have to be fried salami and eggs—his favorite. But a French-Canadian dessert called grands-pères au sirop d’érable (grandfathers in maple syrup) sounds more appealing.

I first heard of grands-pères at the Adirondack Museum, where an exhibit explained that they were made by French-Canadians in the logging camps. Recipes describe them as soft dumplings or biscuit dough cooked in maple syrup—served warm, they must have made for good comfort food after a day of hard labor. Variations may also include blueberries, raisins, nuts or other ingredients.

Why they are called grandfathers is unknown, although a French-language website offers two possible explanations: The first, which sounds plausible (if not so nice) is that they are so named because they are soft enough to be eaten even by elderly grandfathers who have lost their teeth. The other says that grandfathers cooked the dumplings because they were too old to “supply the boiler room,” and were relegated to mixing the syrup. (Here my limited French fails me: “supply the boiler room” is the translation my French-English dictionary gives me, although I am wondering if it refers to stoking the fire for boiling maple sap during sugaring season.) In any case, that one’s not so nice either. Poor grandfathers. At least they got to enjoy what sounds like a yummy—or, as the comments on one recipe site called it, “super délicieux”—dessert.

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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