Thousands turn out to taste test state’s sweetest syrup during Maine Maple Sunday

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POLAND — One-hundred-fifty pounds of pancake mix. Check. One-hundred-twenty pounds of bacon. Check. Twenty gallons of sweet, sweet maple syrup. Double-check. Putting smiles on the faces of the more than 2,500 people of all ages from all over the region by filling their bellies full of pancake breakfast. Priceless.

“It was very, very good, and the bacon was exceptional,” smiled Marjy Sessions, 83, of Norway, who’s been heading out for Maine Maple Sunday with her husband of 56 years for nearly a half-century. “We don’t often get to the farm markets. But when we do, we usually enjoy it.”

Sessions and her husband, 87-year-old Bob Sessions, came out for the Maine Maple Sunday celebration at Harvest Hill Farms. Mainly, the couple laughed, they came out for the all-you-can-eat pancakes, bacon and freshly bottled maple syrup. Held at the Poland farm’s subsidiary, Megquier Hill Farm, owner Pete Bolduc expected this year’s event to draw more than 2,500 people.

“It’s just a great celebration of Maine,” Bolduc said in between welcoming well bundled-up visitors who braved biting winds to come to his pancake breakfast Sunday morning. “Forget about daylight savings time. Maine Maple Sunday is the real turning point.”

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More than 40 sugar houses threw their doors wide open Sunday, inviting tens of thousands of Mainers to sneak a peek at the time-honored tradition of transforming anywhere from 35 to 65 gallons of sap into just one gallon of maple syrup.

Events, treats and entertainment may have varied from sugar house to sugar house, but visitors were certain to find one item no matter where they went in Maine — lots and lots and lots of maple syrup, both to sample and to buy.

“I really like maple syrup. It’s so sweet,” said 10-year-old Hunter Emery as he eagerly made his way down the hill toward the Megquier Hill Farm sugar house and the pancake breakfast awaiting him.

The Leeds boy and his family have celebrated Maine Maple Sunday for as long as he could remember. His mother, 34-year-old Pam, called the annual daylong statewide celebration a great family event with the added benefit of boosting Maine’s economy and tourism industry.

Bolduc, a member of both the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association and the Maine Maple Producers Association, said that maple syrup producers are at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to collecting sap.

He said that farms in central and southern Maine, including his Poland operation, will be lucky to produce one-third of the syrup compared to last year. He said this was due in large part to three factors — little-to-no snowpack, few swings in temperature between day and night, and the fact that sap started flowing much earlier than previous years.

On the other hand, many northern farms, such as the Byron cooperative Bolduc is also involved with, actually exceeded last year’s sap collection.

“The emphasis is on buying and eating local,” Bolduc said in response to the crowds coming out to support local farmers and maple producers. “Maple syrup consumption is growing 10 percent every year even in a bad economy. A lot of people are keeping their money close to home.”

Bolduc is not alone in his feelings about buying locally produced food as a way to help sustain Maine farm families.

Carrie Skillings, 39, a Florida transplant who now lives in Raymond, loved her inaugural Maine Maple Sunday. Leaving Harvest Hill with a bag full of maple loot, Skillings stressed the importance of supporting local farmers and said that was one of her main reasons for coming out despite Sunday’s bitter temperatures. 

“I bought a little bit of everything. It was all delicious,” Skillings said. “It’s important to know where your food comes from.”

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