Today's the day! It's the fourth Sunday in March! Yippee!
You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? You're obviously not from Maine.
Today is Maine Maple Sunday! We've got family in town, and grand plans for touring a sugarhouse and sampling lots of syrup. Read on to find out how we spent the day two years ago, Maine maple sundaes and all. I'll let you know how our celebrations go this year!
It felt like winter. The sky was a mottled grey, the wind was sharp, and snow kept spitting down on us. But our minds would have none of that; we were squarely focused, full steam ahead, on Spring. Because the sap was running and it was Maine Maple Sunday, surer signs of Spring in New England than even the red-winged black birds and crocuses.
Always the fourth Sunday in March, Maine Maple Sunday is the day syrup makers here throw open their doors, welcoming the public to experience with them the heady delight of boiling sap down, down, down into its most perfect state: pure maple syrup. And in a cozy sugar shack humid from the billowing fragrant steam, with samples of maple ‘tea’ to sip, it was easy to forget the uncooperative weather outside. While sugarhouses vary widely in size (some in Northern Maine boast tens of thousands of tapped trees), in our neck of the woods the sugar farms are mostly small, family-owned operations, with maybe a couple hundred taps. This makes for a nice, intimate celebration of the syrup season, and gives one a sense of how much of the sugaring process has remained unchanged over the past 300 years or so.
We checked out the wood-fired boiling evaporator, learned about other tap-able trees (who knew birch syrup has its own following?), and got the kids good and maple sugared-up. We learned that it takes a whopping 40 gallons of clear sap (“sweetwater”) to make 1 gallon of this uniquely North American sweetener, and that the sugarmaker knows the syrup has met the required-by-law minimum sugar density of 66% when it reaches a temperature of 219°F.
Watching the gurgling and bubbling liquid, my sister and I reminisced about our childhood, when we would suck the sap straight from the tubing of a friend’s tapped trees. Always on the lookout for a new food to try, this got my husband thinking about ways to use the unconcentrated liquid in his restaurant. A bourbon and maple water, perhaps? My brother-in-law got us up-to-date on the lucrative state of the organic maple syrup market, where, at a going wholesale rate of $80 a gallon, it’s easy to see where the ‘liquid gold’ moniker came from!
And then, because we just couldn’t help ourselves, we came home and made our own Maine maple sundaes, complete with homemade vanilla ice cream, Maine blueberries, and warm local maple syrup. Because it’s Spring in Maine, and that’s what we do. We take the dogs to the beach, grill on the front porch, and eat maple sundaes. Even if it is snowing.
Maine Maple Sundaes
1 pint of the best vanilla ice cream you can find (or just make your own – it’ll be cheaper and better!)
1 cup wild Maine blueberry sauce (see recipe below)
¼ cup pure Maine maple syrup, gently warmed
Scoop ice cream into bowls, spoon blueberry sauce over, and drizzle with maple syrup. Serves 6 to 8, if you can exercise restraint in your portions!
Wild Maine Blueberry Sauce
2 cups fresh, or 10 oz frozen, wild Maine blueberries
6 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1½ tablespoons instant tapioca
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine all in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, bring to a boil and simmer until sauce reduces and thickens, about 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate for up to a week.