It's a Sunday morning. You're making pancakes -- they're ready. The aroma fills the kitchen. This is the moment you've been looking forward to all week long. Too bad you can't fit a single finger through the handle on your maple syrup bottle. You either have to grab the bottle around its middle like a caveman, or grab the handle with two fingers pincer-style and hope you don't drop it. What's with maple syrup bottles and those tiny, sub-functional handles?
Before plastic was the dominant food packing material, it was glass, and before glass, it was stoneware. In the late 1800s, Canadian households were storing their liquid foodstuffs in heavy ceramic jugs with handles, which made for easier carrying. The design choice made sense for carrying a jug containing up to five pounds of syrup but becomes pretty useless when shrunk to a smaller scale and attached to a slender bottle that can easily fit in the palm of your hand. The design element was purely for nostalgia points, and it just ended up sticking around. When maple syrup companies started designing their products, the tiny handles were added as a callback to those beloved ceramic crocks and a pull on the heartstrings of Canadian consumers.
Pour One Out For Yore
In biology, "vestigial structures" are parts of organisms that no longer serve a function. The tailbone, for instance, is thought to be a leftover remnant from some version of humans that used to have large prehensile tails, but after centuries of evolution, now all the tailbone seems to be good for is getting broken after a fall. Call it human nature, but people have kind of a hard time letting go of the past. Vintage Pyrex and retro 1950s-style appliances from brands like Smeg are here to stay in contemporary kitchens.
As scientist/author/historian/videographer Hank Green explains, when it comes to physical objects and icons, this phenomenon is referred to as "skeuomorphism," when we "hold on to the design element to remind us of what the thing was like and is doing." It's the same reason why the "recycle bin" on laptops looks like a wastebasket filled with crumpled-up pieces of paper, or why smartphone cameras make the shutter sound when they take a photo.
These days, the tiny maple syrup handle is more symbolic than utilitarian. Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup is packaged in a woman-shaped bottle, and Log Cabin maple syrup used to come in detailed glass bottles shaped like miniature log cabins -- neither design of which featured a little handle. But, as foodies get to daydreaming about their favorite maple recipes for fall, that annoying little handle might start to look like more of a reminiscent nod to the past than a nuisance.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.