Maine Maple Sunday promises to be sweet

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GORHAM — Cold temperatures in March slowed the sap run this year, but not enough to prevent thousands of families across Maine from venturing to farm sugarhouses to lap up maple syrup products and soak up the outdoors.

The official 34th annual Maine Maple Sunday is March 26, and producers are promising maple syrup in varying jug sizes to sell at their farms, many of which will serve breakfasts with maple syrup poured over pancakes and host other activities.

Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said last week that he’s confident producers statewide will be ready for Sunday.

“We plan to make quite a bit this week,” Merrifield said about syrup production at his Gorham farm.

Even producers in the northern areas of the state are ready, Merrifield said. “They’ve made a fair amount early on,” Merrifield said.

“Maine’s maple industry is growing in output and importance,” Gov. Paul R. LePage said in a recent statement released by the state. “Since 2010, Maine maple syrup production has more than doubled (a 114 percent increase). The extended 2016 season yielded 675,000 gallons, up from 315,000 gallons in 2010. During that same time period, the number of taps has increased 26.5 percent (going from 1.47 million to 1.86 million).”

Maple syrup attracts crowds. Last year, 7,000 visitors in two days flocked to the extended event at Merrifield Farm.

Merrifield’s wife, Jo-Ann, and their daughter, Molly, were busy stocking shelves in their sugar house Saturday. In previous years, they’ve had Maple Sunday visitors from Massachusetts and even one couple from England, in addition to the many from Maine.

Syrup is produced by collecting sap  from maple trees and boiling it in a stainless steel vat in a sugarhouse. Forty gallons of sap are required to produce a gallon of syrup.

Parsons Maple Products in Gorham began tapping maple trees on Valentine’s Day.

Warm days and cold nights are ideal for sap collections. Robert Parsons said the ideal daytime temperature for sap runs is about 40 degrees and 25 degrees at night.

Many maple producers have modernized with sap running through plastic tubes strung among trees in their sugar bushes. Lyle Merrifield said it’s more efficient but doesn’t have the traditional appeal of pails hanging on tapped trees.

The collection tubes were frozen at Parsons on Friday while sap dribbled slowly from taps into pails hung on trees. “It’s way too cold,” Parsons said while checking collections.

Some previous years he has processed 8,000 gallons. Parsons has 1,500 taps “all over” Gorham, he said, and added he had collected 1,000 gallons of sap as of Friday. He planned to make “quite a bit” this week as daytime temperatures moderated.

Merrifield Farm, 195 North Gorham Road, has again expanded the annual maple event to two days, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, March 25, and Sunday, March 26. Numerous maple products will be available, including small pails of maple cotton candy for children. Visitors also will be treated to barn and ice house tours, oxcart rides, a blacksmith demonstration and the opportunity to see syrup produced.

Calves are a “huge hit,” Molly Merrifield said.

The maple house at Parsons, 322 Buck St., will be open 7 a.m.- 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 26, to market its products and show visitors how syrup is made. This is the 23rd Maple Sunday for Parsons and the 18th for Merrifield.

For a listing of participating syrup producers, events and contact information, visit mainemapleproducers.com.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.

Bob Parsons of Parsons Maple Products in Gorham checks sap collection March 17.

Molly Merrifield, left, and her mother, Jo-Ann Merrifield, stock shelves with maple syrup March 18 in their sugarhouse in Gorham.

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Editor of The Forecaster; prior reporting/editing gigs at Automotive Age magazine, Daily News of Los Angeles, Biddeford Journal Tribune; Syracuse U. Orange-bleeder; lifelong NY Yankees fan, longtime resident of Red Sox Nation.