Monday, April 1, 2013

Maple Weekend draws crowds by Leah Hoenen

A long line of maple sugar enthusiasts led to the sugar house at Cooper’s Maple Products in Windham. At the end of the wait: ice cream with maple syrup, maple cotton candy and other tasty treats made from the sparkling amber liquid.

Scenes like this played out across the state as Maine sugar houses opened their doors for the 30th anniversary of Maine Maple Sunday, a long-standing family tradition. People gathered around plates of pancakes doused with syrup before exploring the ins-and-outs of maple syrup production and grabbing treats to take home, from jugs of syrup to candy and baked-bean mixes.

Dewey Lloy, co-owner of Balsam Ridge Farm in Raymond, stood in front of a steaming vat of maple sap that bubbled away on a bright, brisk morning as people walked through, asking him about the production of syrup before tasting and buying it.

Bob Leger, of Scarborough, started the day with his family at Merrifield Farm on North Gorham Road before heading to Balsam Ridge. “We love Maine Maple Sunday. I’m really glad they extended it to Saturday and Sunday,” he said.
Lloy agreed. “We’ve always done Saturday and Sunday,” he said. The Lloy family began tapping trees as a hobby 15 years ago and opened their sugar house to the public eight years ago. A two-day event gives people the option to pick the better weekend day, or the chance to participate even if they have to work one weekend day, he said.

Cassie, Mark and Regan Johnson of Lewiston started their first-ever maple weekend at Balsam Ridge on Saturday, March 23. “This is our only one today; we’ll go to some tomorrow. This is our first year and its fun so far,” said Cassie Johnson.

Lloy said it can take anywhere between 40 and 50 gallons of raw sap to make a gallon of syrup, depending on the sugar content of the sap. Measured by a hydrometer, the sugar content of sap decreases throughout the season, which normally runs about six weeks. As the amount of sugar decreases and it takes longer to boil away the water, the end product darkens.

Lloy said he expects this year to be a good one for syrup production. Ideal weather is freezing nights followed by thawing days, which increases the pressure inside the tree, he said.

The Lloys use a vacuum pump to help create that pressure change. “The pump does not suck out the sap, it just causes the tree to have a differential in pressure to cause the sap to flow,” he said.

As an average tree can produce 1,000 gallons of sap each year, and syrup makers take 20 gallons to 30 gallons from each tree, the process is harmless, he said. “It’s like giving a pint of blood a year. There’s a tiny hole that heals the same way and leaves a small scar,” Lloy explained.

Lloy pauses and points to a heavy, rusted chain used for oxen teams to pull sap from the woods. Harvesting maple sap in the spring is an old rite here; Lloy has found sites on his property where people built huts to boil sap in the woods, he said.

Plastic tubing connected to vacuum pumps and stainless steel pans for evaporating may seem a far cry from boiling syrup in the woods, but in many ways, production of this early-season commodity is quite the same as it was when sap was boiled in the woods, or pulled from the woods in tubs by teams of oxen. People still gather each year early in the spring to boil the water out of sap to create sweet, golden syrup.

“This is a traditional thing people have a connection to,” Lloy said. “Anything with agriculture that can garner interest and get people out is a great thing.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.