As Kathy Peary of Presque Isle (left) turns homemade batter into fresh corn fritters, Emily Zell of Caribou drizzles maple syrup onto each one before passing to visitors at The Maple Moose in Easton on Saturday. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

Thousands of people visited maple sugaring operations across the state over the weekend to take tours, learn how syrup is made and sample treats in the first near-normal Maine Maple Sunday weekend since 2019.

But one maple producer noted an unprecedented spike in interest surrounding the sugaring process, which is something he hadn’t seen before the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted the annual spring event.

Lucerne Maple Products’ Tim Littlefield said that not only were people more interested in the syrup-making process this year, but many are doing their own backyard tree tapping. The pandemic sparked people’s desire to explore more of nature and try new at-home ventures, creating a new group of do-it-yourselfers who want to learn how to make their own maple syrup.

Mackenzie Holton of Caribou helps out at The Maple Moose in Easton on Saturday, delivering homemade corn fritters with maple syrup to visitors. Maple producers statewide reported good turnouts for Maine Maple Sunday weekend. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

“Obviously, since COVID, people have taken an interest in doing these things themselves,” Littlefield said.

The turnout was robust over the weekend, according to the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, who oversees RealMaine.com, a promoter of Maine Maple Sunday and other events.

Commissioner Amanda Beal of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, visited Goranson Farm in Dresden with Gov. Janet Mills, as well as Merrifield Farm in Gorham and Dunn Family Maple in Buxton. She reported lines of customers waiting to tour sugarhouses and indulge in maple treats.

“It was wonderful to see people celebrating Maple Sunday and supporting maple producers around the state,” Beal said.

Enthusiasm was high at Lucerne Maple in Holden, Littlefield said. Though typically not open on the Saturday of Maple Sunday weekend, he had so many calls from interested people that he stayed in the sugarhouse Saturday and tended to visitors.

But Sunday was the busiest Maine Maple Sunday Littlefield can remember. Though they had sanitizer stations around the property, activities were largely back to pre-pandemic status because people were eager to resume normal gatherings as the pandemic diminishes, he said.

Clark Bradbury monitors the boiler while explaining its function to guests during Maine Maple Sunday at Bradbury Maple Farms in Bridgewater. Credit: David DiMinno / The Star-Herald

What stood out for him was the high level of interest from visitors about the whole maple production technique, from tree tapping to boiling and bottling. In past years, interest was lukewarm, but as he gave tours and explained the sap boiling on Sunday, people were really taken with each step in the process.

“It was more than ‘It comes out of a tree and I put it on my pancakes,’” Littlefield said. “When I started to move to another topic, people made me backup and answer some more questions.”

Bob Parsons of Parsons Maple Products in Gorham, who also operates Parsons Dairy Farm, said turnout was very good and there was a steady stream of visitors. Family members made maple butter and other items and sold everything, and people also bought a lot of syrup, he said.

Parsons Maple has a large building with indoor seating, and usually offers a pancake breakfast on Maple Sunday. They canceled for the third year due to COVID-19 precautions. The meal requires a lot of helpers, and since the pandemic is still around, Parsons didn’t want to take chances.

“This is a real farm,” he said. “If we get sick here, there’s nobody to milk the cows, so we have to be careful.”

Maple taffy being made at Bradbury Maple during Maine Maple Sunday. Credit: David DiMinno / The Star-Heraldd

Though the pandemic set them back a bit the past two years, Parsons was pleased with the weekend’s turnout, saying attendance was near normal, even without the pancakes.

At Bradbury Maple Farms in Bridgewater, Bart Bradbury and son Clark Bradbury were doing their fourth boil of the season on Sunday as Clark explained how the boiler works.  He offered visitors some numbers to consider: 40 gallons of sap make one gallon of syrup and Bradburys’ farm can boil 220 gallons of sap an hour, equaling 35 gallons of syrup a day.

The Bradburys sold a variety of maple products, including popcorn, syrup, maple cream, maple sugar and cotton candy. Visitors also sampled maple taffy on a stick.

“It’s been a really good weekend,” Bart Bradbury said. “Of course, after COVID over the last couple of years, we have not had big crowds, but today and yesterday have been great.”

Owner C.J. King (right) and son Joe King chat with visitors as they man the evaporator at The Maple Moose in Easton on Saturday. Their operation was one of many statewide that welcomed visitors for Maine Maple Sunday weekend activities. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

At The Maple Moose in Easton, people milled about Saturday, chatting with owners C.J. and Jodi King and family members. C.J. and son Joe King manned the evaporator as the sap boiled down.

Tom Peary of Presque Isle and Stacie Holton of Caribou tended the taffy station, while Kathy Peary of Presque Isle fried homemade corn fritters with helpers Emily Zell and Mackenzie Holton, both of Caribou.

C.J. King said turnout had been good. As she managed crowds at the store, Jodi King said it was wonderful to see people around again for Maple Sunday.

 

David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.