Maple Syruping in MaineGUEST BLOGGERS, HARVESTING NATURE'S BOUNTY, USA MAINLAND — By Julia Munroe Martin 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.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.
“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.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!
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
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.