Boiling down the sap and learning how maple sugar is made

Mmmm... sugary sweet on Maine Maple Sunday at Camden-Rockport Historical Society

Posted:  Monday, March 25, 2019 - 12:45pm
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CAMDEN/ROCKPORT – It’s always a treat to watch the steam rise off the big boiling pot in the Sugar Shack at the Camden Rockport Historical Society, 7 Commercial St. in Rockport, on Maine Maple Sunday. The historical society made sure there was plenty of sugar cooking going on March 24, as the state celebrated Maine Maple Sunday.

New exhibits and forgotten treasures as well inside the Mary Meeker Cramer Museum made an enjoyable afternoon reliving bygone years.

The average maple tree isn’t tapped until it is 40 years old, according to a flyer put out by the historical society. An average tree will yield about 40 quarts of sap per season.

After processing, a gallon of pure Maine maple syrup will weight approximately 11 pounds.

Wendy Harvey spent a day tending the fire as she boiled down Maple tree sap into the sugary treat.

“We start with the stuff that comes out of the tree, and which looks like water,” Harvey said. “If you taste it, it’s just a little bit sweet. We put it in an evaporating pan over the fire where we boil off about 40 gallons of water at a time to make the syrup.”

Harvey said it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. The sap is about three percent sugar.

“The Sugar Shack came off of Howe Hill and was built in 1820,” she said. “This evaporator pan I’m using is fairly new because the one that came off the mountain has holes in it.”

Harvey said they burn a considerable amount of wood to make the syrup.

“For doing this, I prefer a soft wood,” she said. “It needs to be nice and dry, too, because you want it to burn fast.”

Once sap comes from a tree it must be processed within a few hours or it will spoil. Maple syrup processors would work round the clock once the spring run started.

An interesting fact: Processed Maple syrup will not freeze, so the freezer makes for an ideal storage place.

Heather Moran, director of the Camden Rockport Historical Society, said the turn out for Maine Maple Sunday was good.

“It was a great turn out and we have really benefited from the warm, sunny weather,” she said. “Somebody said the cars were parked all the way out along the drive and even out on Route 1. That is a lot of people.”

Moran said the Cramer Museum was also featuring a lot of new exhibits.

“People are excited to see the new exhibits,” she said. “We have Hugh Lane here who is a local wood-working and tool care expert. He’s been doing demonstrations of planes we found in the barn and it brought in a lot of people today.”

Moran said they wanted to do a theme around ship building and the ice and maple harvest.

“We’ve been combing the barn and the out buildings,” she said. “We wanted to cull items from the various collections to bring into the museum and show them off. It was a big benefit to have Hugh here to show us how to use the tools and to identify them. We had no idea what they were called or how they were used.”

Moran said the sap used to make the syrup does not come from trees on the property.

“Wendy Harvey, who makes our syrup every year, brings in the sap from her Hope farm,” she said. 

Gabriele Wicklow, master gardener and member of CRHS, said they will be installing a 1750 herb garden this spring beside the Conway House.

“It will be maintained by volunteers,” she said. “There are four categories in the garden: Culinary, medicinal, aromatic and dye pot. There will be an area around the garden for children to plant, a trellis garden and a sunflower garden.”

Wicklow said everything in the garden will be representative of 1750 and how the colonists used them.

“For instance, they didn’t have a lot of medicines,” she said. “So they created medicines from the herbs. Dye pot herbs are how they dyed their clothes. Most of their clothes were made from flax, which they turned into linen. It was all just a muted gray or light brown, so in order to add a little color they would use different herbs, such as beet root and lavender, to dye the clothes.”

Wicklow said the garden is open to the public and children will be allowed to come and harvest.

“I’m going to be giving a class on the garden and herbs,” she said. “And I’m hoping to get some donations of wood chips and stones.”

State Representative Vicki Doudera said it’s was a pleasure to attend Maine Maple Sunday.

“It’s wonderful to honor all the work people put into this important Maine industry,” she said. 

Moran said it was going to be a busy summer.

“We are doing a pivot away from the museum and trying to focus more on our historical 1770s homestead,” she said. “The kids from the middle school are interested in doing a digital architectural project. We want to revitalize our community suppers we have once a month and Hugh has offered to do some summer workshops for us throughout the summer.”

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