DAYTON — Some couples trace the arc of their romantic lives by Shakespearean sonnets or rapturous ballads.

Jennifer and Jeremy McGrath of Saco, together since they were teenagers at Biddeford High in the mid-’90s, prefer poetry of a sweeter sort. Call it an ode to Acer saccharum.

The sugar maple.

On the fourth Sunday in March, as they have for the past 16 years, the McGraths indulged in their rite of spring. On Maine Maple Sunday, they journeyed to Harris Farm to feast on pancakes drenched in maple syrup.

That they had to wait outside in line for more than an hour on a raw and windy morning made their first bites that much more satisfying.

“Absolutely,” Jennifer McGrath said. “It’s well worth it.”

Visitors to nearly 100 sugar-producing farms throughout the state seemed to agree. After a lackluster 2010 season in which the sap flowed too early and in too small a quantity, producers of Maine maple syrup are licking their lips over the steady stream of liquid gold trickling from the taps of their trees.

“We’re having a great season,” said Keith Harris as steam billowed from an evaporator inside the sugarhouse. “We’ve had a traditional winter, if you will, where it was snowy and it was cold and we didn’t have a lot of temperature fluctuation in January and February. It was cold. Therefore, the sap didn’t start flowing in the trees until early March, which is when we tap.”

In last year’s unusually mild winter, Harris tapped his 300-plus maples Feb. 13. This year, he didn’t begin collecting until March 3 and hasn’t stopped since. Snow remains in the woods and helps draw down the temperatures at night.

This year’s sap is also unusually high in sugar content, consistently averaging 4 percent instead of the normal 2 percent or 3 percent. At that level, Harris said he can produce a gallon of maple syrup with only 21½ gallons of sap instead of the usual 40. Last year’s warm winter and low sugar content required an average of 47 gallons.

“Mostly what I attribute (the sweeter sap) to is a great growing season last summer,” he said, shoving another pine log into the elongated woodstove beneath the evaporator. “The trees had the opportunity to build carbohydrates, which in turn they convert to sugar as they’re going dormant.

“So in the springtime, when those trees come alive, that sugar content is being stored in the roots. The sap’s flowing up the tree to nourish the buds. But for it to hold that high of a sugar content this late in the maple season is unusual.”

The farm already has produced 100 gallons of syrup and sold all of it. Harris figures he’ll be able to produce another 50 gallons or more until the first week in April, when the appearance of buds signals the end of the sap flow.

Maine is the second-largest producer of maple syrup in the United States, behind Vermont. Last winter, the two accounted for 90 percent of New England’s 1,325,000 gallons, with Maine’s share 23 percent to Vermont’s 67.

If the sap sometimes runs inconsistently, the visitors to Harris Farm on maple weekend do not. Parked cars stretched on rural Buzzell Road for more than a quarter mile in both directions. Long lines led to both the pancake breakfast on one side of the road and the sugarhouse with homemade doughnuts on the other. Including 700 visitors Saturday, Harris estimated the weekend crowd at 2,500 to 3,000.

Dixie Harris, the family matriarch, paused in the driveway after delivering another bucket of pancake batter — a mix that included stone-ground flour from the farm’s first crop of wheat — to reflect on the sunny blue skies and the smiling, if shivering, crowd.

“Anything that isn’t precipitating is good March weather,” she said.

As for the sweet rite of spring, she mentioned a regular visitor.

“Every year he’d say, ‘How long? Dixie, how long before Maple Sunday? I can’t wait for Maple Sunday,’ ” she said. “What he really wanted to do was get past winter. And I think that’s the same for a lot of people. It’s time to be outside and enjoying the brisk air.”

For an hour. More, if necessary. Particularly if the reward is fluffy pancakes with homemade butter and maple syrup. No blueberries necessary.

“Regular pancakes,” said Jenny McGrath.

“Floating in syrup,” added Jeremy McGrath.

“Floating in syrup,” she agreed. “That’s the key.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]


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