BALDWIN — The O’Brien family of Portland likes maple syrup – a lot.
Last year the family bought two gallons during Maine Maple Sunday, but it wasn’t enough.
“We are a three-gallon family,” said Kate O’Brien.
O’Brien and her husband, Tuck, and children, Owen, 4, and Desmond, 1, brought their cravings to Grandpa Joe’s Sugar House in Baldwin on Sunday, one of several sugar houses they planned to visit before the day was over.
The O’Briens said they always visit Grandpa Joe’s on Maple Sunday. “This is our fourth year. We come back because it is a little out of the way,” said Tuck O’Brien.
Being off the beaten path is actually good for business, said Ben McKenney, whose great-great-grandfather was Grandpa Joe.
“It’s all about location,” said McKenney, whose family has been taking part in Maine Maple Sunday since the 1990s.
About 95 sugar houses opened their doors Sunday to sell maple syrup products and demonstrate the art of boiling down maple tree sap into amber sweetness.
Last year 120,000 people took part in Maine Maple Sunday, the Maine Maple Producers Association estimated. The annual event on the fourth Sunday of March was started in 1983 to showcase what has become, counting multiplier effects, a nearly $49 million-a-year industry that generates 805 jobs.
The McKenneys tap 300 to 400 trees on the 138-acre farm and around town and produce about 150 gallons of syrup a year.
At Grandpa Joe’s, Maple Sunday is a communitywide affair. The whole family and assorted friends pitched in to serve an expected 1,200 visitors. They peeled 50 pounds of potatoes for the pancake breakfast, grilled hundreds of hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch, and ladled out 12 gallons of free ice cream scoops topped with syrup for dessert.
“This a huge family and community thing. It’s awesome,” said Heather Mason Fortin of Baldwin, who helped out Sunday along with several others who have been friends of Ben McKenney since kindergarten.
As in past years, the North Baldwin Fire Auxiliary was on hand at Grandpa Joe’s to sell raffle tickets for a basket full of Maine-made products. Margie Tripp, auxiliary treasurer, was also taking entries for the maple syrup baking contest.
This year’s entries included maple pecan cake, slow-cooked maple pork, maple apple pie, maple pretzel pops and maple pecan coconut candies. The winner walks away with $15.
“I’ll pull judges at random from the crowd,” Tripp said.
Bob Pappalardo of Raymond, accompanied by his daughter, Kelsie, 13, said maple syrup is among his favorite foods.
“It is expensive but it is worth it,” he said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: