Maple Syruping in Maine

GUEST BLOGGERS, USA MAINLAND, HARVESTING NATURE'S BOUNTY — By on April 7, 2011 at 22:54

Story by guest blogger Julia Munroe Martin. Photos Copyright © Julia Munroe Martin.

EVER SINCE we moved to Maine, we’ve been meaning to attend “Maine Maple Sunday.” That’s the day, always the fourth Sunday in March, when maple syrup producers all over the state open their doors to the public, to see how maple syrup is made.

Yet every year of the fourteen we’ve lived in Maine, we’ve missed it! Either we hear about it when a friend tells us what a great time they had, or we find out the day it is happening, and we already have plans. This year, sure enough, the day after the big event I talked to a friend who told me all about the great fun they had the day before.

I couldn’t believe it—my fourteenth straight miss.

But this year, I didn’t give up. I called a well-connected friend to find out if anyone he knew was still producing maple syrup. I knew I had to hurry because the season usually runs for just six weeks, and it was drawing to a close.

My friend Mark came through, and the next day we had two maple syrup producers to visit: a family that makes syrup for its own personal use, and a new, small commercial producer.

A familiar sight in Maine as Spring approaches

A familiar sight as spring approaches

It was a bright and sunny but cold and windy day when we set out. I was excited! All I knew about maple syrup production was through the taps and buckets I’d seen attached to trees around town and in the countryside—everywhere in Maine as spring approaches. Not surprising since Maine is the third-highest maple syrup producing state in the country (after #1 Vermont and #2 New York).

After the “tapping,” I had no idea, except that the sap mysteriously disappears into a small “sugar house” or “sugar shack” and then maple syrup comes out.

The first sugar shack we visited was not a shack at all—but an outside operation, run by Lorrie and Dean Miklovich, along with their son Sam (their “last helper of four,” as they called him). On a concrete pad, the Mikloviches had a set-up that consisted of a firebox (made out of an old 275-gallon oil tank) topped with a 30-gallon pan. This “evaporator” (see feature photo) is where the sap is boiled to extract the water, so it becomes syrup.

With the smell of maple syrup swirling around us, Lorrie Miklovich explained the process: raw sap is collected from maple trees that are tapped, then this raw ingredient is brought to a boil in the pan, and it needs to be kept boiling consistently until it reaches 219 degrees—then the sap becomes syrup.

Of the process, husband Dean said: “Anyone could do this if they had the right equipment.”

The family produces from 5 to 10 gallons of syrup each spring: enough for themselves and to give as “really cool” gifts to family and friends.

Marking Time from Winter to Spring

Lorrie said they started their home production as a way to mark time. As Lorrie poetically put it: when you start collecting the sap it’s winter, and by the time you finish making the syrup it’s spring.

Mason jar filled with liquid love

Mason jar full of liquid love

“You know it’s time to start tapping the trees when the snow melts away from the base of the tree,” Lorrie said. She went on to explain that you can also tell by using the “tipping” technique: you break off the tip of a small branch—if the end weeps sap, it’s time to start tapping the tree.

“It takes cold nights and warm days,” Dean said. “Below freezing at night, and warm and sunny by day.”

Seventeen-year-old Sam—the youngest of four—says he looks forward to helping out with the process. They’ve been doing it for as long as he can remember. Dean reminisced about when their kids were young: “The first thing they did as soon as they woke up was to come running down with a spoon, for a taste.” The kids would then drizzle hot syrup on snow or ice cream—a traditional Maine treat.

It was a cold morning, and with the heat of the firebox keeping us toasty warm, I could clearly see the lure that syrup-making holds. After a wonderful visit and a tour of their farm, we left with happy memories and a big Mason jar full of syrup; a lovely gift from a lovely family.

Commercial Production: A Community Project

We then headed to Norumbega Farm in New Gloucester, Maine, a commercial endeavor new this year. Noah Fralich and his father Michael are just finishing up building a beautiful new sugar shack. All the wood used for the building was milled from white pine trees on the 300 acres of land they live on.

Sugar house at the Norumbega Farm

Sugar house at the Norumbega Farm

The evaporator is housed inside the sugar shack. The sap is tapped from trees on their property and also from trees of neighbors and friends—Noah says it’s been a community project, with many of the materials for the shack and supplies for the sugaring donated as well.

It was a natural addition to the farm. Michael Fralich has created a series of trails on the 300 acres, open to friends and family, as well as the public. The farm also participates in the European Servas International, the oldest hospitality exchange program.

In this, their first year of operation, Noah says they produced about 250 12-ounce bottles (about 20-25 gallons) of syrup. He hopes to expand their production next year.

Norumbega Farm participated in the Maine Maple Sunday program, and they sold about 70 bottles of syrup in addition to offering free samples on waffles and ice cream.

As we headed for home, we once again began passing maple trees being tapped, with the classic pails attached. This time, I smiled knowingly . . . because for the first time in fourteen years, I knew exactly what was coming next!

Recipes

Looking for how you can use maple syrup? In addition to the traditional uses, for pancakes and waffles, Lorrie Miklovich says she also uses it as a sugar replacement in cookies, cake, oatmeal, and even coffee. In addition, she cooks savory dishes with it, offering these super-easy and delicious recipes:

Stir-fried green beans or asparagus: stir-fry the vegetables in oil and garlic, then at the very end, stir in about 1-1/2 teaspoons of maple syrup.

I tried this with their homemade syrup and wow is it good!

Marinated ham steak in maple syrup: marinate a ham steak overnight in maple syrup, then grill it—delicious!

——–

LINKS OF INTEREST

Maine Maple Sugar Producers

——–

Julia Munroe Martin

Julia Munroe Martin


JULIA MUNROE MARTIN lives in an old house on the coast of Maine. She comes by her wanderlust naturally: born in France, she has also lived in Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Belize, Kenya, and Uganda (with brief stints in Minnesota, Ohio, and New York). Julia works as a freelance writer and editor in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors; she writes fiction and creative-nonfiction; she blogs at wordsxo and tweets as @wordsxo.


Tags: , , , , ,

    17 Comments

  • Roona says:

    Hi Julia,
    Lovely! Now, thanks to you I know what happens at Maple Syrup time too! Cool details, pictures and recipes. I wish I could put out my hand into the comp and take out the mason jar full of liquid love for myself!
    Roona

  • Julia
    Twitter: wordsxo
    says:

    Thanks, Roona! Thanks for the comment and so glad you enjoyed the post! And I wish I could send you some of the syrup, or better yet: have breakfast together and eat delicious waffles!

  • What a fun outing. Picking the small family operation and a commercial one was a great idea. Although Norumbega Farm sounds very family/homey as well!

    My husband comes from Montreal and I just asked him to tell me again about his childhood memory at a maple farm. He said they would go to a farm and pay a fee for family breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs and Canadian bacon with maple syrup over everything. But before they sat down to eat the farmer would bring out hot maple syrup and pour it over a long snow covered fence top. After the syrup was taffy-like everyone would grab a Popsicle stick and roll the taffy around the stick and eat it up!

    I like the sound of the the green bean or asparagus recipe. I’m definitely going to try that. Your ham marinated in maple syrup as well! I like reasons to use maple syrup. I don’t seem to have the touch for pancakes anymore, but French toast, who can’t make that? 🙂

    I loved your post, thanks for the story, the visuals and recipe too. It’s nice to hear about small farming operations that are successful too. I’m glad you finally got to do it!

    catherine

    • Julia
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      Catherine, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story–it really was SUCH a fun outing! I loved your husband’s story about the snow along the fence top, too. It seems that many people have wonderful memories around maple syrup making, and I’m glad I finally can join in! I hope you enjoy the recipes as much as I did. Thanks so much for your kind words! Julia

  • Now I’m hungry to try stir-fried veggies with maple syrup and maple-glazed ham! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

    • Julia
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      Hi Cheryl, So glad you came by to share the adventure! I know, the whole trip made me crave yummy food: pancakes, french toast, waffles, now ham and beans? What’s not to love? 🙂

  • Square-Peg Karen
    Twitter: SquarePegKarengmail.com
    says:

    I should *not* have read this before eating! Julia, you’ve made me hungry — now I want some maple syrup, but also – I feel hungry to see some sights, find out what’s happening behind the scenes in different places.

    I learned so much reading from this post – thanks!

    p.s. I will NEVER put syrup on my asparagus – Ms. Miklovich needs a stern talking to (I think she may have committed an asparagus crime).

    • Julia
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      Sorry to make you hungry (then you’re not going to want to hear that we had homemade pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast, right?)….glad you enjoyed the post! p.s. I am definitely with you on the asparagus–I LOVE asparagus and will only ever eat it as nature intended! Thanks for the comment, Julia

  • Haley | Girl About the World says:

    I’m planning a trip to New England later this year and was bummed to find out I’ll be there nowhere near maple syrup season. I’ll definitely have to plan another trip back at the right time, as this sounds like so much fun!

    • Julia
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      I’m glad you’ll be visiting New England — it is true that it’s very hard to time a visit to hit maple syrup season, but there are lots of seasons that are beautiful with wonderful things to see and do. When you do get ready to come for maple syruping, be sure to go to the Maine tourism bureau for visiting information; especially to find out the weekend when farms open the doors to the public (usually in March).

  • Ann
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    SO cool, Julia! Milli and I were talking about this post when we met….and I’m glad she sent the link so I could read it! It’s amazing how interesting our own back yards are…not to mention delicious in your case!

  • Alonna Shaw says:

    Julia– you brought me back to my childhood days of being a “helper” during the syrup-making process! I remember using a stick to scrape the bottom of the split barrel after the sap was reduced down to nature’s candy.
    Wonderful story.
    Thanks for sharing it.

    • Julia Munroe Maritn
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      Alonna, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story…and it brought you back to your childhood. I confess to a certain envy that you grew up with such a wonderful tradition (not to mention the sweet reward).

  • Leigh Lauck says:

    Julia, your article filled me with warm nostalgia. My Grampa made maple syrup every season in West Bethel. I remember him skiing out to check the sap lines in the early spring, and it took him all day. He was (and is) a “tough old bird,” to borrow his own phrase.

    Now 85, Grampa has retired from sugaring, but my cousins are keeping up the tradition. Your photo of the sugar house reminds me of the one at Grampa’s.

    Thank you for stirring up some fond memories with this wonderful account. And thanks, too, for the recipe suggestions! Maple syrup goes with just about everything. Especially ice cream.

    • Julia Munroe Martin
      Twitter: wordsxo
      says:

      Leigh, I’m so glad this brought back such wonderful memories! I loved reading your stories about your grampa, and how wonderful that your cousins are keeping up the tradition. He must love that, too. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Trackbacks

Leave a Trackback