The Portland Phoenix

Letter from Aroostook: How sweet it is

C.J. and Joe King

C.J. King, left, and his son Joe run The Maple Moose in Easton, where maple sugaring will soon be hitting its seasonal peak. (Portland Phoenix/Jan Grieco)

If you missed Maine Maple Sunday, don’t fear.  There’s still time to plan a trip to The County, where syrup production is at its peak. 

As the days grow longer, temperatures rise, and Aroostook maple producers are gathering sap to boil down to syrup, candy, sugar, fudge, and more. It’s arguably the sweetest time of the year for maple producers from Smyrna up to Eagle Lake.

After being housebound with below-zero temperatures and lots of snow, I took a drive out to The Maple Moose in Easton – one of the five producers in The County, and right on the Canadian border – to see how the sap is running.

And running it is.

Sugaring has come a long way since I was a kid growing up in Vermont. The metal buckets hanging on trees have largely been replaced by vacuum tubing that runs from tree to tree, collecting the clear sap that sugar maples produce as the days warm. Determining when that happens is really a matter of knowing the weather and the sugar bush that will be tapped.

C.J. King and his son Joe run The Maple Moose. They tap about 30 acres in their sugar bush and were happy for a first run of sap last week. 

There’s still snow in the woods – critical, they said, to provide the water that feeds the trees that gets the sap running. Their best yields, Joe said, are always the end of March and early April, which puts them about two to three weeks behind producers in the southern part of the state.  

Two weeks ago they began sap collection and are busy boiling it down into a variety of maple products, from syrup to candies that are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Gone are the days of the open boilers. At The Maple Moose, stainless steel processing equipment that includes a new boiler evaporator and a reverse osmosis processor reduces about 75 percent of the water content in the sap before it even gets to the boiler. That is a far cry from the open boilers I saw in my youth and cuts the processing of 2,000 gallons of sap from 10 hours of boiling to two. 

Every day is spent collecting the sap that flows through the vacuum lines and into collection tanks. When there’s enough sap to boil, the precious liquid is hauled into the sugar shed and then into the equipment, and then is boiled down into the precious amber liquid.

Some is bottled immediately into three grades of syrup to suit your preference, and some is turned into maple cotton candy, sugar candy, maple needhams, cold-brew maple coffee (yup, maple coffee), and maple funnel fingers. All of it is sold in their on-site store, and they also ship. 

If you’re looking for a North Woods spring adventure, consider a weekend in The County to visit The Maple Moose, where you can get a glimpse of a sugaring operation and pick up some great syrup, and maybe if you’re lucky, maple taffy on snow.

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former newspaper reporter. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.

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