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Sweet weekend tradition returns

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 30, 2021
Photo by: Susan Mustapich At Sparky's Honey and Maple in Hope, owner David Smith explains his syrup-making process.

Visitors to maple syrup makers in Hope March 27 and 28 were treated to samples, a carbonated maple sap beverage, and warm half-gallons of freshly bottled syrup.

At the Camden-Rockport Historical Society's Conway House Museum, a demonstration of the old way of making maple syrup, in a large pan atop a hot fire, took place in the 1820 maple sugar house outside.

Hope syrup makers at Rock Acer Maple and Sparky's Honey and Maple both saw lots of visitors March 27, when the weather was sunnier, and just as many March 28, when a chill blew in with the fog.

Rock Acer Maple on Barnestown Road began making syrup in 2015, with an evaporator in the back of the chicken house. Now they have a sugar shack, closer to the road.

On March 28, Scott Pease was inside tending the evaporator, surrounded by steam and some wood smoke. Outside Andy Pease sold bottles of syrup and Katherine Pearse offered syrup samples and a special treat, a carbonated drink made from pure maple sap.

Andy Pease said they just got a new evaporator made by W. F. Mason in Porter, and have fine-tuned it. The new evaporator increased their boiling rate by 100%, which means no more boiling syrup overnight, he said.

Rock Acer Maple produces 50-60 gallons of syrup a year and has around 120 taps. About 75% their sales take place over Maple Syrup weekend.

At Sparky's Honey and Maple in Hope, owner David Smith explained his system for making maple syrup.

Sap runs from the maple trees on Moody Mountain, through long tap lines, into a large stainless steel collection tank in the sugar house. The tap lines go out to various sections of the woods outback, Smith said. There are about 450 taps that run sap into in the tanks. When the sap is running well, it comes in at about 60 gallons an hour, he said.

The sap coming in contains 2% sugar. Smith passes the sap through a reverse osmosis system to remove water. One pass removes a lot of water and concentrates the sugar to 4%, he said. The sap cycles through until the sugar is about 8%, and is then sent to the head tank, which feeds into the back section of the evaporator.

Sap comes in at a temperature around 36-40 degrees. It goes through a preheater, and enters the evaporator at 150 degrees. The preheating system uses steam evaporating from sap in various compartments to heat the new sap coming in.

Sap flows into the evaporator continually to replace what is evaporating as steam, Smith said. Once inside the evaporator, the sap flows through a series of pans, where it is boiled, and the water is evaporated, until the syrup is made.

"Each step along the way, the syrup gets sweeter and sweeter, and as it gets sweeter, it gets denser," Smith said. "As it gets denser, it boils hotter."

Water boils at 212 degrees. Syrup, when it is the proper density, boils at 219, he said.  A separate thermometer tells him when the syrup is ready.

On March 28, Smith was sitting in front of the evaporator, filling half gallon glass jugs with warm maple syrup, and talking with a steady stream of visitors.

He has been making syrup seriously since 1992. He also did it as a kid for fun from about age 12. "I guess it's in my blood," he said.

Locally, Sparky's Moody Mountain syrup is sold at Hope General Store and Fresh Off the Farm. It is also sold at Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick, Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport and at the Common Ground Fair. They also sell honey at French and Brawn in Camden.

Smith hopes to have a small retail space onsite by the fall, "because a lot of people are coming by to buy curbside lately."

Maple Syrup Weekend is a good market, too.

"A lot goes out the door on a day like today. Since we're been doing it a long time, we are their favorite," he said. "The syrup sells out every year."

All of the syrup is grade A, whether gold, amber or dark. Smith's syrup usually runs darker because he taps a lot of red maples.

In an average year Sparky's produces around 300 gallons of maple syrup. This year, they are at about 120 gallons.

Sap is temperature dependent, and runs when nights are below freezing, and days warm up above freezing. Smith said it would be cold the night of March 29, but the tap holes also dry out with warm weather.

"It remains to be seen whether it will kick in like it was doing prior to this warm spell," he said. "I'm not getting my hopes up, but I'm not throwing in the towel either."

Outside the Camden-Rockport Historical Society's Conway House Museum on March 28, Wendy Harvey and her dad Winston Pendleton kept a hot fire burning for a couple of hours while they boiled maple sap the old-fashioned way. The small building was filled with steam, and the open fire took the chill off off the foggy day.

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