March 25, 2010

The sweetest Sunday

Sample the syrup and pancakes and hobnob with the farm animals on Maine Maple Sunday (which starts Saturday in many locations).

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

How often do you get the chance to pet a miniature horse and eat maple cotton candy at the same time?

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Toffee and her new foal will be greeting people on Maple Sunday at Coopers Farm.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below

SUN-SAPPED SAP

The weather has been kind to sun-starved Mainers this year, but not so nice to syrup producers.

“It started early and it’s slowed down for us,” said Lyle Merrifield of Merrifield Farm in Gorham and president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. “We’re going to be a below-average year. The days have been getting so hot for us. Typically, 25 to 30 degrees would be enough, with a freezing night, but when you get days that are 50 to 55, that just doesn’t get it cold enough to get change in the tree.”

At Brookridge Boilers in Lyman, there are usually 650 taps in the trees. This year, the producers felt “lucky” to get out 400.

“Normally we don’t boil until around the 15th of March,” said Suzanne Guillemette, owner of Brookridge. “This year the first time was the 25th, I believe, of February, and that’s the earliest we’ve ever boiled.”

The good news is that the syrup that is being made is of good quality.

“The syrup’s had good flavor, probably a little more flavor than some years,” said Mark Cooper of Coopers Maple Products in Windham.

“The sugar content in the sap has been quite low, which means it takes more sap to make a gallon of syrup.”

Usually it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup; this year it’s taken 50 gallons of sap, which takes longer to boil off, “and that potentially makes a little stronger maple flavor,” Cooper said.

Only in some weird dream – or on Maine Maple Sunday.

This weekend, farms all over Maine will be opening their doors to the public for the traditional annual syrup sampling, sap boiling and pancake breakfast.

But if you’re in the mood for a little something extra, here are a few places that have special activities that will add a little kick to your syrup-slathered experience:

NEVER SAY NEIGH TO SYRUP

At Coopers Royal Heritage Farm in Windham, there will be a pancake breakfast from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. And you’ll be able to buy maple candy, maple cotton candy, maple lollipops, maple-coated nuts and, yes, maple syrup.

But you’ll also be able to check out Toffee’s foal, so new to this world that he doesn’t yet have a name. Toffee is a miniature horse, one of about two dozen on the farm, and her foal was actually due on Maine Maple Sunday but arrived a little early.

The Coopers have been raising miniature horses since 2003, and watch about a half-dozen new foals arrive every year. Most of the horses are under 34 inches tall and don’t mind being petted, said Mark Cooper.

“They’re very friendly,” he said. “They’re not intimidating at all. They’re a totally different personality from a big horse.

“We have one stallion here named Special that will stand there for school kids tour after tour. There will be 20 kids poking around trying to pat him, and he’ll stand right there for the whole thing, with his head up over the stall door waiting for somebody to scratch him, pay attention to him.”

Horses not your thing? The farm also raises beef cattle, and there are a half-dozen peacocks and exotic pheasants and one ostrich.

FRENCH CANADIAN FAVORITES

There will also be animals at Brookridge Boilers, where there have already been four spring lambs born and another on the way.

The All-Star 4-H Dairy Club will be putting on a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m. and showing off some of their dairy calves.

But most people come here for Suzanne Guillemette’s tire (pronounced “tier”) and sucre a la crème – maple fudge – made from her grandmother’s recipe.

“We sell out of those items very fast,” Guillemette said. “We’ve had a lot of people come just for those.”

Tire, also known as sugar on snow, is a maple taffy that is a French Canadian favorite. Guillemette said her grandmother used to keep it in a big Mason jar and put it on doughnuts and homemade cookies, or mix it with heavy cream. Guillemette also sells her version in a jar.

“It’s what you would put on snow, but I’ve got it in a consistency where you can just eat it right out of a jar,” she said. “A lot of people remember having their grandmother doing this during sugar time.”

MAINE MAPLE SATURDAY?

More farms are extending Maine Maple Sunday to the entire weekend, either because customers are requesting it or because it helps spread out the crowds over two days.

You can find a farm that’s open on Saturday by checking out the list at www.getrealmaine.com.

Ben McKenney of Grandpa Joe’s in North Baldwin said his farm actually gets more visitors by holding the event over two days, and sometimes people come for both days.

This year, the farm will have music both days from the Maine Maple Sunday Old Time String Band. McKenney is also continuing a tradition his late grandmother started by hosting a cook-off at noon Sunday to benefit the North Baldwin Fire Auxiliary. Visitors interested in entering should bring a dish made with Maine maple syrup. Judges will award prizes to the best entries.

A lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs and other casual fare on both days will benefit a scholarship fund.

ANTIQUES AND OXEN

If you’re mostly interested in soaking up maple syrup tradition, check out the antique sugar devils, sugar nips and sugar molds that the Merrifield family has been collecting for years at Merrifield Farm in Gorham.

The Merrifields also do an oxen demonstration, with the enormous animals pulling children around in a scoot or wagon.

“We incorporate the oxen because they were very much a part of the sugaring operation 100 years ago,” Lyle Merrifield said. “We set up the big cauldrons, the big cast iron kettles. We hang those off big chains, and that shows how they used to cook syrup, ladling it from cauldron to cauldron.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Steven McKenney and son, Ben McKenney, pour condensed maple syrup into the canning machine that will reheat, filter and prepare for bottling some of this season’s syrup at Grandpa Joe’s Sugar House.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Emma McKenney, 2, enjoys some vanilla ice cream with her family’s homemade maple syrup at Grandpa Joe’s Sugar House in East Baldwin.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Norman McKenney, Ben McKenney’s grandfather, gets ready for Maine Maple Sunday. His grandfather was Grandpa Joe, the founder of the family maple syrup business Grandpa Joe’s Sugar House in East Baldwin.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer



Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


Blogs

More PPH Blogs

 
Get the GO RSS!