On a cold and muddy Sunday morning in Maine, I did the unthinkable for a girly girl… I went outside.
Is this my M.O.? Usually, no. Not only am I the kind of person that prefers “nature in small doses” but, I tend to hide out inside when it’s cold and muddy unless there’s something super special worth going on which, thankfully this Sunday, there was a Maine maple syrup event called “Maine Maple Sunday”, a tradition that has been going on for 4 decades.
Now that I’m a Mainer, I can appreciate this syrupy sweet celebration along with everything else Maine has to offer…
Hey, I’m not complaining. This foodie loves indulging while supporting local, family run businesses (which Maine seems to be all about). So, I simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity, mud or no mud.. cold or no cold.
What followed was a mighty tasty day, full of interesting factoids and adventure as I explored different sugarhouses in Maine with lots of history and character. I even got a special impromptu tour of one of them from the 1700’s!
Needless to say, I left feeling so inspired on my hunt for maple that when I got home, I even thought about tapping the maple trees in my own backyard which evidently, there’s a guide to doing yourself.
So, if you love sugary goodness as much as I do and want to try something fun and local in New England, read on as I share my first Maine Maple Syrup Weekend experience and some yummy tidbits that just might make your mouth water. 😉
[ Originally posted March 2022, Updated July 2022]
What to Know About Maine Maple Sunday
When is Maple season in Maine?
Maple season is that time of year when the cold temperatures of January and February freeze the sap in the trees before the warmer Springtime weather in March thaws it again. Then, it’s time to tap the trees. The change in weather allows the sap to flow beautifully when collected.
That’s when we throw a little party known as “Maine Maple Sunday” which, because it’s a party, goes on state wide and often carries on all weekend. That’s how we do. 😉
What is Maine Maple Sunday?
Maine Maple Sunday is an annual tradition that’s held the 4th Sunday in March. Over 100 places participate which you can view on this interactive map. You’ll find sugarhouses and farms with everything from fun events, maple breakfasts and maple goods for purchase to educational tours and samplings.
The only thing to figure out is which places are actually worth going to. Be sure to call ahead to see hours of operation and offerings – tours, goodies, maple breakfast, etc. You don’t want to be driving all around the great big state of Maine in the cold only to find nothing but Jim out back in the sap house working his usual shift. (true story). It’s as if the places allegedly participating in Maine Maple Sunday seemed to have forgotten.
The farmer hilariously said that he’s not putting out a spread or anything special but we were welcome to see him work.
Left a crowd of us awkwardly standing around as he tended to the maple syrup boiling. We looked on in silence and confusion. I began to wonder if he was expecting us at all as there was no tour being held then or, seemingly ever.
At the very least, I wanted to go home with something in my belly. I did trek up the hill of mud to make it to the farm after all. Unfortunately, they had a very basic Maple breakfast buffet which put me off after seeing the out of place macaroni salad. I decided to skip it altogether and instead, drove to another sugarhouse a few towns over.
Guess 3rd times a charm! This sugarhouse had just the Maine Maple Sunday experience I was hoping for!
I always love a heartwarming family business story. This one goes back 8 generations when the Luce family started making maple syrup in 1795. As the story goes, the 1st Luce generation left Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600’s to escape British control and came to New Vineyard, a town in Maine they helped establish where you’ll find the Luce’s Farm today.
March is mud season in rural Maine girls! Leave your cutesy shoes at home and wear boots! I wore my black Harley Davidsons and the soles were covered in mud.
My Experience at Luce’s Farm
When you walk through the big barn doors with maple leaf shaped windows at Luce’s Farm, you enter a steamy, sugar filled sap house that was originally built in the 1800’s. It’s what I imagine Willy Wonka’s factory to smell like. Immediately upon entering, my nostrils were hit with the strong, sweet scent we all associate with pancakes!
As I expected, workers were preoccupied, running the maple production line. They take pride in using the same maple syrup techniques that their ancestors did. A couple folks (Jamie & Adam) were friendly enough to give me a tour and explain how maple syrup is made! (More on that later) Little girl me was dancing.
After a fun filled lesson, I was left with a sweet tooth and had to get my hands (or rather, mouth) on some maple. Heading to the shop, I was impressed with their homemade maple goodies. The selection was intense! Everything with Maine maple syrup of course… Maple smoked bacon, candy, meat seasonings, popcorn, cotton candy, pastries, pies, nuts… I didn’t realize just how many maple concoctions you could come up with! If you can dream it, they probably have it.
Let’s just say, I walked away with more than I could carry myself. 😉 Can’t get to Luce’s Farm? Order from them online.
You can learn more about Luce’s Farm story here.
And now, here’s how to make maple syrup!
How Maine Maple Trees Are Turned into Maple Syrup
How is Maple Syrup Made?
There’s a whole process that goes into making the delicious liquid you pour on your waffles and pancakes! While we may enjoy it, rarely do we ever stop to consider how it’s made or the people who make it and we should as the exhaustive effort is such a labor of love! The maple farms deserve our support!
It’s why a favorite distillery of mine out of Vermont went from being a sugarhouse to distillery with award winning spirits like their best selling No. 1 Bourbon, using maple syrup sourced from other sugarhouses instead! Which is a whole other interesting story! Read my blog here.
Tapping Maple Trees in Maine
I’m a visual person so if you want to teach me something, you’ve got to show me, which is just what Jamie did. She took me out back to view different maple trees and explained it all to me…
As it turns out, maple syrup starts off as maple sap, a clear liquid (like water) that’s tapped from the maple trees before being filtered and finally boiled into maple syrup. Since the maple production process is so time intensive, many producers use reverse osmosis to speed things up.
There are different ways to collect the syrup through “old fashioned” and “new” methods. Luce’s Farm uses both techniques.
Maple syrup is a big booster in Maine’s economy which brings the state over $50 million every year. Maine is the 3rd largest producer of maple syrup in the US behind Vermont and New York, having produced 360,000 gallons from 1.47 million taps in 2011.
Old Fashioned Method
The “bucket based system” is more time consuming but nevertheless, yields results. You drill a hole into the maple tree and attach a spicket, which is where the sap flows from before dropping into the bucket and then, being filtered and boiled into maple syrup.
Historically, in 1795 when the Luce’s first started making maple syrup, they used big cauldrons up the hill and put wood fire underneath to cook the maple sap. They’ve since modernized away from wood fire.
In the 1800s, they built a sap house which was rebuilt in 1915 and most recently, 1987.
Tubes running from tree to tree transport the maple sap which collects in a big tank instead of the bucket.
Learn more about modern maple syrup collecting methods here.
Different Types of Maple Syrup “Grades”
Have you ever wondered why some maple syrups are darker in color or have a different flavor than others? In short, it has to do with the trees themselves as well as weather. The earlier season produces lighter maple syrup while the later season produces darker maple syrup.
The darker the color, the stronger the flavor.
Luce’s Farm and other sugarhouses use an international grading kit with different maple syrup samples to determine which grade a new batch is – Golden, Amber, Dark or Very Dark.
And there you have it! My Maine Maple Sunday experience and how these farms make Maine maple syrup. If you’ve missed Maine’s maple season this year, don’t worry! You can still catch it next year. Check out Luce’s Farm Store online to get your hands on some maple goodies in the meantime!
Prepare for Chilly, Mud Season in Maine
Would you visit a sugarhouse during Maine Maple Sunday? What is your favorite thing to put syrup on? I’d love to know in the comments below!
Looking for more activities in New Vineyard, Maine? Check out Wire bridge which is beautiful all year round.
Thank you so much for your continued love and support! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
Until next time… Sending you lots of love.
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