Maple syrup: Sweet on the brain and taste buds

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WOMEN WARM UP BY MAPLE SYRUP STEAM — Linda England and Nancy Grigg, both of Bridgton, made Thunder Hill Farms in Waterford their second stop on Maine Maple Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

HARRISON — As she poured topaz-colored maple syrup across the wintery white ice cream, Melissa Duffy talked about what she had recently learned about the sweet substance.

“There was a great show on NPR. It explained how the Canadian government sets the market price for maple syrup. There is a whole reserve of maple syrup,” she said.

“You think it is just about tapping a tree. But, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” she said.

Duffy and her family had just wrapped up a tour at Dad’s Maple Sugar Shack in Harrison, and she had found that quite educational.

“I like this place. It’s nice and small. It has the feel of a family-run operation,” Duffy said.

This was the first time that her family had participated in Maine Maple Sunday, which falls on the fourth Sunday in March every year.

Duffy had learned about the agricultural promotion when her daughter brought home a handout from school. It included a map of sugaring operations in the area. The Cumberland residents were visiting family in Lovell, and decided to give Maine Maple Sunday a whirl before heading home. After admiring the angora rabbits, her two daughters were eating lunch: ice cream drizzled with maple syrup.

From Waterford to Poland, residents who attended the various events found it to be pleasurable for both the brain and the taste buds.

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MOM POURS MAPLE SYRUP ON ICE CREAM — First-timers to the offerings of Maine Maple Sunday, (left to right) Teagan, seven, and Maggie, four, wait for their mom, Melissa Duffy, to add maple syrup to the free ice cream they got at Dad’s Maple Sugar Shack in Harrison. (De Busk Photo)

Eight-year-old Brooklynn Merrill had a long list of food she had consumed: two ice cream samples, two samples of organic beef briskets, half a maple whoopee pie and a couple cups of hot cocoa.

After all she needed those calories. Merrill had volunteered her time to help out at Thunder Hill Farms in Waterford, where she lives. She was especially fond of the Scottish Highland cattle, and visited the cows when her help was not needed.

Warming up next to the steam emitting from the sugaring process, two friends chatted.

Nancy Grigg, of Bridgton, said this was her second year of going to Maine Maple Sunday events.

“We are doing it with my son and his friend. We are making it a tradition,” Grigg said.

The group started out at Pietree Orchard in Sweden, and then headed to Thunder Hill Farms.

Bridgton resident Linda England said it had been a delightful day and that included the food and the conversation as well as the jug of maple syrup that she had purchased.

England and her husband enjoyed the company in their midst and the food on their plates, beginning their morning with the pancake breakfast at the North Waterford Congregational Church. McAllister Sap House provided the syrup for that spread.

“It was phenomenal. It was the best breakfast I have had in years,” England said.

“We wound up talking about farming at our table,” she said.

At some point, the conversation turned to how to plant potatoes for the biggest yield, she said. By putting a tire and more soil around the potato plant as it grows, the gardener would build a tower of tires, she said. Then, in order to harvest the potatoes, remove one tire at a time.

Also during the pancake breakfast, England not only learned the recipe for lemon blueberry pancakes, but she also ended up with a container of the flavorful pancake batter, which the woman making the pancakes had shared with her.

Her only regret about the day: “I wish we had more time to visit more places. We spend such a long time at each spot.”

Meanwhile, 19-month-old Molly Penley probably won’t remember what she ate or what she saw during her second Maine Maple Sunday experience. But, her mom knows.

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POURING IT ON — Amber Henderson, of Dad’s Maple Sugar Shack in Harrison, pours maple syrup on complimentary ice cream during Maine Maple Sunday. (De Busk Photo)

“We came here for the briskets. Dottie’s beef is so delicious,” Penley said.

Plus, the toddler loves to visit the chickens, she said.

Ellie Walsh went to Sweet William’s on Spiller Road in Casco. Her Sunday was spent with her daughter, Katie, and her grandson, James. Walsh said the offering of food was great. She was pleased with the maple baked beans and the fried dough.

For the first time, she taste tested maple butter on oat nut bread. She was tempted to buy some of the sweet concoction.

Darlene Campbell, who co-owns Dad’s Maple Sugar Shack, said that making the maple cream is about a four-hour process. Like tapping trees, it is a temperature sensitive task.

“You have to bring the maple syrup to 235 degrees. Then, you cool it below 80 degrees with an ice bath. Then, you churn it in this machine with paddles,” Campbell said.

Joe Lavoie, also the co-owner of Dad’s Maple Sugar Shack, said it has been a labor of love to get ready for Maine Maple Sunday.

“We’ve worked twice as hard to get a little,” he said.

After all, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

He estimated that tapping the sap from the maple trees is about a month behind schedule.

“I am just hoping that Mother Nature is kind to us,” Lavoie said.

For tapping the tree, the ideal temperature is above 40 degrees during the day and around freezing throughout the night. As the daytime temperature rises, the sap travels from the roots to the buds, he said. If the temperatures don’t drop to below 32 degrees at night, the sap would explode from the tree, he said.

“Maple trees are finicky,” he said.

 

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