Matt's mother persuades Matt and his father to take a small keg of molasses with them on their trip to Maine territory in the book Sign of the Beaver. Matt's father would have preferred not to take it, because of the need to limit the amount of equipment they are taking with them, but Matt's mother, knowing well her son's fondness for molasses, prevails. Matt and his father have rationed the molasses carefully so that it will last longer, but when Matt somehow leaves the door unbarred when he goes out fishing, a bear enters the cabin and, among other things, empties the keg of molasses and leaves it overturned on the floor. Matt is devastated, and frustrated at his own carelessness. He runs his fingers "round and round the empty keg like a child" to find the last sweet vestiges of the precious molasses, and resigns himself to a tasteless diet of plain fish.
Matt cannot stand the bland, boring victuals available to him for long, however. He remembers a bee tree he and his father had found, and, although his father has warned him that the bees are "better left alone," Matt resolves to climb the tree and take just a little bit of the bees' honey, even though he knows he is risking getting stung (Chapters 4-5).