The warmer than usual weather brought out the buckets and plastic tubing hanging from trees earlier this spring than in recent memory. Syrup producers were ready for Maine Maple Weekend this year, their sugar houses boiling down sap to make the sweet treat.
At Balsam Ridge in Raymond, they boiled on February 21st, which was the earliest they have ever boiled. On Saturday and Sunday they had demonstrations of how the sap is boiled and poured off. They also had many treats to sample and purchase to take home. From fudge to cotton candy, hot dogs steamed in sap and maple baked beans, no one left hungry.
Owners Sharon and Dewey Lloy have been participating in Maple Syrup Sunday for 16 years. The maple trees on their 50 acres provide enough sap to have syrup for tourists in the summer and even some for the holidays. They are always trying new ideas and new products. New last year was the sweet mustards and BBQ sauces. This year it was maple cream cones, said Sharon. They also ship syrup year round.
All of the trees at Balsam Ridge are tapped directly into tanks that are pumped into the sugar house 100 gallons at a time.
“We’re a family run operation. We’re small and personable,” Sharon said.
Dewey was boiling the sap on Saturday, but usually that is Sharon’s job, he said. Unlike some sugar houses, this one boils using oil instead of wood giving a consistent even heat. Dewey explained that knowing Sharon was going to make 70 percent of the syrup, she wanted it simplified so that she could pick kids up from school or practice. All she had to do was turn the oil off and the entire operation shut down. Sharon was also the reason for the sap running into storage containers instead of buckets on the trees.
This year Maine Maple Sunday fell on Easter, prompting some sugar shacks to close on Sunday and only have visitors on Saturday.
“Ideal? No. We’re going to be fine. I think it’s a wonderful thing for the state to do,” said Dewey of the marketing of Maine Maple Weekend. “With Saturday and Sunday, it gives them an option. Saturday is not quite as crazy. It’s more relaxed,” he added.
Different sugar houses have different treats. “Everyone offers something different,” said Sharon. Balsam Ridge has horses Ginger and Rex adding a special treat for guest to pet and look at, while eating their complimentary vanilla ice cream topped with maple syrup.
“The end result is the same. Going to different places you’ll see some different technology,” said Dewey.
Custom pieces of art were on exhibit from Steven Brooks Art and the artist was there to discuss his unique sculptures with visitors to the farm.
Michelle Mulcahy of Gorham, was dressed up as a leaf at Balsam Ridge. “I volunteered,” she said. “They pay me in maple syrup.”
The weather was perfect and many people were out to sample some of the best of Maine. Syrup is still available and being boiled for a little while longer. Call a local sugar shack to get some.