Spring is coming and the sap is rising in the trees. It’s maple syrup season here in Maine! Join me on a tour of some classic “sugar shacks”!

Maple Syrup

Do you like maple syrup?

I’m not talking about the overly sweet artificial stuff from the grocery store.

I mean the small-batch, dark, buttery, and intensely flavorful kind.

Did you know that compared to refined white sugar, pure maple syrup is high in antioxidants and contains important nutrients such as zinc and manganese? Or that it could help reduce inflammation and improve digestion?!

On top of all that, it tastes amazing — providing depth of flavor, and not just sweetness, to anything you add it to.

I am lucky to live in a state with hundreds of small family maple syrup producers. In fact, Maine is the third largest maple syrup-producing state, behind Vermont and New York.

And this is the time of year when they are harvesting sap and turning it into that delicious liquid amber!

How Do You Make Maple Syrup?

You can make maple syrup the old fashioned way — tap into a maple tree, hang a bucket to catch the sap, and then boil it down in a pot on your stove.

But while the basic concept hasn’t changed, modern equipment has made it more efficient and easier for maple syrup producers to collect and process larger quantities of sap.

Collecting the Sap

The sap starts to rise in maple trees when daytime temperatures rise above, and nighttime temps fall below, freezing. Here in Maine that is generally somewhere between late February and early March.

Instead of the traditional bucket, most maple syrup producers now use a network of tubing to collect the sap. The tubing is attached to a tap in the maple tree and the sap then flows through the tubing to a centralized collection vat.

While this collection method certainly isn’t as picturesque as the old wooden or tin buckets hanging from trees, it is certainly more efficient.

And, well, the buckets are made of plastic these days anyway.

Depending on size, a tree can have between one and three taps. Each tap produces 10-20 gallons of sap in a season.

Turning Sap into Syrup

Once the sap is collected, it is time to turn it into the delicious stuff!

Whether you boil the sap in a pot or in a large high-tech evaporator, the goal at this point is the same: remove water from the sap to concentrate it. Maple sap is generally 2-3% sugar, while Maple syrup is 66% sugar. Boiling the sap releases water in the form of steam. It generally takes 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup.

The cooking process also enhances the flavor and aroma of the sugars, resulting in that deep buttery maple taste!

Some modern evaporators are wood fired, and others use oil or propane.

After the maple syrup is done cooking, it goes through a filter system to remove impurities and turn it into the clear amber liquid we know so well!

Maine Maple Sunday

Each year on the fourth weekend in March, maple sugar producers, also know as sugar houses or shacks, throughout Maine open to the public for demonstrations, tours, and, of course, tastings!

This was the second year I joined in on the fun — driving the back roads and slopping my way through the ubiquitous March mud. All for a small shot of pure deliciousness!

The Sugar Shacks

We visited four sugar shacks this year. Each had a little something different to offer!

Beaver Hill Plantation

This is a three generation enterprise. They have 1700 taps and produce between 350 and 500 gallons a season in their wood-burning evaporator.

Shop for their maple syrup on their website here, and have a little bit of Maine delivered right to your door!

Sweet Freedom Maple Syrup

I love the cheery red roof on this place!

Sparky’s Honey and Maple

Sparky’s produces both maple syrup and honey products. You can see that they also have a wood-burning evaporator.

Seaside Sugar Shack

As it’s name suggests, this place is located right on the water! It was the only place with a view of the ocean from the evaporator room! It was also the only place we visited that still harvests the sap in individual buckets the old fashioned way.

The Lost Kitchen

Not a sugar shack, but of course when we were in Freedom, we had to swing by the world famous Lost Kitchen restaurant for a look. They are not open for the season yet, and unfortunately their store was not open either. Read about the Lost Kitchen in my blog post One Winter Week in Maine.

Sweet Bounty

Of course I didn’t come home empty-handed!

In addition to a couple bottles of my favorite syrup, I also picked up a loaf of maple-cinnamon-raisin bread, a maple whoopie pie (the whoopie pie is Maine’s “official state treat”), maple covered cashews, and a jar of maple sugar. I couldn’t pass up a small bottle of bourbon maple syrup — maple syrup flavored in an old bourbon barrel!

Maple Syrup Recipes

When my son Jack was in high school, he was eating a breakfast of french toast slathered in maple syrup. Something he said, led me to reply “Maybe you don’t like maple syrup.” He had just assumed that everyone likes maple syrup! He hasn’t really eaten it since. t

Unlike Jack, I love maple syrup! I use it to sweeten and flavor my breakfast oatmeal every morning in winter.

I add it to my homemade granola. You can find my granola recipe in my blog post Easy Homemade Granola Breakfast Apple Crisp

My grandfather was famous for his “Oh Boy Waffles” — topped with maple syrup, of course! My sister still has the recipe card for these waffles in Gramps’ handwriting!

Oh Boy Waffles are great topped with maple syrup!

This Maple Walnut Bread Pudding from King Arthur sounds pretty heavenly!

Maple syrup isn’t just tasty in sweet recipes, it also adds depth of flavor and a hint of sweetness to savory foods — salad dressings, meat rubs, and vegetable dishes!

Here are some links to sites with a variety of recipes which feature maple syrup:

Maine Maple Producers

NYS Maple

Maple Syrup Farms

How do you like to eat your maple syrup? I have to admit it was pretty darn tasty straight up from a little shot glass!

If you want to read more about classic Maine delicacies, check out my blog posts Wild About Maine (Wild) Blueberries and The Best Little Lobster Shack in Maine!

Another Sweet Thing

While we are on the subject of sweet things, it is with great joy and enormous love that I share the arrival of our second grandchild! Poppy Mayberry was born two weeks early on Monday night, weighing just 5 lbs 8 oz. She is perfect in every way, though, and I am already in love!

I am off to DC next week to meet her in person and help out the new parents.

I will try to pull a blog post together for next Saturday, but I might not be able to get it done before I leave.

So maybe I will see you here next week, but maybe I won’t!

Regardless, I hope you have a sweet week!

Thank you for joining me for Maine Maple Sunday!


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