2002-03-20 / Front Page

Maine Maple Sunday is this weekend

Jami Badershall
Emily Hardy, daughter of Chris and Julie Hardy, and Tyler McClure, son of Misty Pelham and Dustin McClure, sit outside Bunnell's sap house to enjoy some ice cream topped with maple syrup. Emily Hardy, daughter of Chris and Julie Hardy, and Tyler McClure, son of Misty Pelham and Dustin McClure, sit outside Bunnell's sap house to enjoy some ice cream topped with maple syrup. MAINE -- Every year since 1980, the state has celebrated its grand tradition of making maple syrup with Maine Maple Sunday, a day when local producers open the doors of their sap houses and invite people to take a tour.Father and son, John and Jeremy Steves, of Strawberry Hill Farm in Skowhegan were the first to start Maine Maple Sunday. According to John Steves, a number of maple syrup farms had offered open houses independently. Back in the 70's the Steves even made maple candy with their maple pots right outside the base lodge at Sugarloaf.In the early 80's, the Steves invited some of the larger producers including Peter Tracy of Farmington, Ted Greene of Portland and Arnold Luce of Anson to their farm to discuss creating a statewide day to promote maple syrup. Today, around 75 producers take part. Vermont and New York have since created Maple Sundays of their own."It introduces the general public to the maple process of production of syrup and candy," said John Steves. Last year, Strawberry Hill Farms had more than 2,000 people visit from 10 to 15 states, and at one time even had visitors from Alaska. He said they usually have at least people from every state from Virginia north, which makes a "pretty cosmopolitan group."Donna Tracy of Maple Hill Farm on Titcomb Hill in Farmington is the mother of Peter Tracy, one of the originators of Maple Sunday. She said her family has always enjoyed participating every year and that it's a good way to let people know what they do.Tracy said their farm is having a great year and have already produced as much as they did last season. Their farm will offer donuts, baked beans, demonstrations and syrup tasting for their visitors.Karl Bunnell of Madrid plans on having around 100 people go through his sap house on Reeds Mill Road every Maple Sunday. He welcomes them to learn about his operation and taste the fruits of his labor with some maple syrup over ice cream or sweet and sour meatballs cooked in maple syrup.He was taught to make maple syrup by his father. "Father was doing it here 40 or 50 years ago. It gets in your blood I guess." Bunnell said it's a hobby, not a moneymaker for him. He can hopefully get what he puts into it back.He still has the same helper his father did, Ray Ellis, who turns out along with four other volunteers every year when the sap starts running.Prime sap running weather is cold nights below freezing with warm days. Although nights have been somewhat mild, Bunnell said he already had about 76 gallons as of March 14. Last year, which was a poor season, he didn't even start boiling until the 16th. He has 2,000 taps on Rock Maple trees near his home and out back of Ralph Howard's Pit in Salem and usually gathers 200 to 210 gallons.Bunnell has 4-H groups and school children tour the sap house throughout the season. Preschoolers from Halfway Down the Stairs nursery school have been coming since 1994. He knows this because he dates the pictures the children draw for him after their visit and decorates the walls with them.Maine Maple Sunday is the big day for him though. He likes to show people how the process works. "How it comes out of the trees. It's natural, no additives," he said.Other area maple syrup producers will also be opening their sap houses to the public. River Run Farm in Strong, Sweet Maple Farm in Wilton, Murphy's Maple Syrup in Jay, Bowley Brook Maple Syrup in Weld, Hall Farms in East Dixfield, John Hodgkins in Temple and Maple Hill Farm in Farmington.Emily Hardy, daughter of Chris and Julie Hardy, and Tyler McClure, son of Misty Pelham and Dustin McClure, sit outside Bunnell's sap house to enjoy some ice cream topped with maple syrup. Emily Hardy, daughter of Chris and Julie Hardy, and Tyler McClure, son of Misty Pelham and Dustin McClure, sit outside Bunnell's sap house to enjoy some ice cream topped with maple syrup.

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