Maple Sunday offers sugar house tours, tastings to visitors
Hope — The 31st annual Maine Maple Sunday weekend will see sugar houses open to the public Sunday, March 23, with some also open Saturday, March 22.
The event is sponsored by the Maine Maple Producers Association, which has a map of participating sugar houses on its website at mainemapleproducers.com. Michael Bryant, secretary of the maple producers' organization, said slightly more than 100 producers are taking part in Maple Sunday this year.
Sparky's Moody Mountain Maple at 130 High St., has been making maple products for six years, although owner David Smith said he was involved in sugaring back in the 1980s as well. To keep the entire year sweet, Smith also produces honey under the Sparky's label.
His honey and maple products are sold locally at Hope General Store and Fresh Off the Farm in Rockport, and also at his farm by appointment, or when the roadside sign is out. In addition, he sells through his website, sparkyshoneyandmaple.com. He can be reached at 831-5085.
He has about 500 taps, which typically produce 125 to 150 gallons of syrup a year. According to the Maple Producers website, the sap of hard rock maple trees, from which the syrup is made, is around 3 percent sugar. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup.
Smith has plastic piping from his taps to outdoor collection tanks, which then feed into the evaporator in his sugar house. Each day, he boils whatever sap has been collected the day before; depending on how fast the sap is running, he may be boiling well into the evening. Lately, he has not had much to boil, because of the consistent cold weather.
“It's been so darn cold,” he said, adding the sap has not been running much. The trees require a cycle of above-freezing days and cold nights for best production, he explained. For the last five or six years, the season has started early. So far, this year has been more traditional, Smith said.
Bryant confirmed that all of Maine has had a very cold spring thus far. “[T]hus, syrup production is substantially behind,” he said in an email. Because the season normally starts later in northern Maine, there is still the possibility that sugar houses there will have a bumper crop this year, if the weather moderates in the next week or two. Regardless of when it starts, the season is unlikely to run past the middle of April in the southern half of the state, Bryant said. Up north, it can last until early May.
People who visit Moody Mountain Maple are often surprised that the sap is clear before it is boiled, Smith said. The heat applied in the boiling process to remove the water from the sap causes caramelization, resulting in the syrup's brown color, he said.
Maple syrup can be different shades of brown, depending on when in the season it is made, Smith said. Generally, the earlier syrup is lighter in color, becoming increasingly dark as the season progresses, because of changes in the sap's chemistry. This gives the different grades of syrup, ranging in color from golden to very dark brown. As the color darkens, the maple flavor intensifies.
Smith's syrup is certified as organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). He said the designation signifies primarily that he takes good care of his trees, and does not tap them too young or put too many taps into a single tree. It also means he follows high standards of cleanliness regarding his processing equipment, and does not use any pesticides on his land.
Bryant said while many small maple producers in Maine are not organic certified, most of the larger producers have the certification, so “probably most of the syrup made in Maine is MOFGA certified.”
Smith said he had a good crowd for Maple Sunday last year, and looks forward to seeing plenty of people this year as well. He will be open both Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.