Maple syrup cravings override rain

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

During Maine Maple Sunday, people tour the sugar shack at Sweet William’s off Spiller Road in Casco. Almost 1,000 people visited that location — despite rainy weather that decreased attendance slightly. (De Busk Photo)

RAYMOND — Sweden residents Ilmars Laebrencis and Robin Legere were laughing like children as they described the maple syrup cravings they had been indulging all day.

“We are going to bang out a few more locations and get a complete maple syrup overload,” Laebrencis said. “We will go to work on Monday smelling like maple syrup.”

Legere paused from eating her pancakes and joined in, “On the way here, we said, ‘We need more maple syrup before we start having a sugar crash.’”

The two were first-timers to Maine Maple Sunday, the event that falls on the fourth Sunday in March and is designed to promote the local industry.

At Balsam Ridge in Raymond, Laebrencis and Legere were among 500 people who ate a pancake breakfast over a two-day period, according to Balsam Ridge owner Sharon Lloy. In recent years, Lloy expanded the promotion to both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate busy families. She said the attendance peaked early Sunday afternoon.

Members of Venture Crew No. 271 volunteered their time in the kitchen, providing plate-loads of pancakes. Venture Crew is a local co-educational teen program, associated with Boy Scouts of America.

Down the road in Casco, Sweet William’s pulled out all the stops. In addition to the traditional sugar shack tours and purchases of maple syrup products, a variety of free treats and activities for children were offered.

Maple syrup topped 45 gallons of ice cream on Sunday, according to family member with an ice scoop in hand. But, an even longer line formed at the face-painting table, where owner Bill Symonds’ sister and his daughter transformed eager faces into butterfly wings or other animals. Meanwhile, the men manned the maple syrup operations going on in the sugar shack.

“It’s a family affair,” said Bill’s wife, Sue.

The Symonds devised a way of counting participants by requesting each person take a penny from a bowl and put it into a clear jug on a table. Almost 1,000 people visited Sweet Williams on Sunday, which was down from previous years, she said.

“We’re always amazed at the end of the day that we are just so blessed,” Sue said. “People just come, despite the weather. Despite a rainy day, we saw lots of new people; and we saw familiar faces of loyal people who come every year.”

In North Waterford at McAllister Farms — where typically a few hundred people visit during Maine Maple Sunday — the attendance decreased by half.

“We had about 125 people,” said owner Merle McAllister. “We usually have twice that number. The sales were down, too.”

McAllister said she had been trying to figure out why the turnout was lower — the sluggish economy, the misperception about an early spring producing less maple sap, or the chilly and rainy day.

“Who knows” what caused fewer people to come out, she said.

However, the die-hard maple syrup lovers dressed warmly and showed up at the North Waterford location.

“People that have been coming for years — we did see quite a few of those,” McAllister said.

According to Ben McKenney, the owner of Grandpa Joe’s Sugarhouse, the number of participants was “probably down by one-third from” previous years.

“There were probably 100 less people than we usually see,” he said, which would put the typical attendance number around 300 for the Baldwin-based maple syrup producer. “We had a better crowd on Saturday, even though we had more to offer on Sunday. Some people have this thing in mind that you only have one time a year to get maple syrup. But, that’s not true.”

He added, “Maine Maple Sunday is our big open house. But, we will be around next weekend. We all have product to sell throughout the year.”

For more information on regional and statewide maple syrup businesses, go to www.mainemapleproducers.com. On the webpage of the Maine Maple Producers Association, locate the MMPA Directory at the top of the page, and click on members.

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