WINTERPORT – Maine sugar shacks are gearing up for the upcoming Maine Maple Sunday.
In addition to syrup and candies that are readily available at most sugarhouses, a lot of maple producers make value-added products. Back Ridge Sugar House in Winterport is included in that list and makes maple popcorn, maple pumpkin dog treats and other products.
“Everybody raves about our syrup and our maple popcorn is a huge hit, along with our maple pecans, our hard candies, our soft candies,” said Josh Knipping, owner of Back Ridge. “It just all plays into the entrance of spring.”
Knipping said his late mother, Molly, came up with the maple popcorn recipe.
“She kept bringing up batches to me at the house, try this, and try this and we finally nailed it,” he said, standing in his sugar shack on the Boston Road. “It’s just amazing, amazing popcorn. It’s not just a light coating of syrup, it’s just bathed in maple syrup and once you start eating it, you can’t stop.”
Back Ridge is one of 89 sugarhouses in the state that have signed up to host events for Maine Maple Sunday, March 24. Many farms offer games, tours, and, of course, samples of the sweet stuff.
“There is nearly 500 licensed maple producers in the state of Maine and just shy of 200 of those licensed producers are members of Maine Maple Producers Association,” said Lyle Merrifield, president of the association.
Last year, Mainers created 539 gallons of maple syrup in a $23.9 million industry that employs more than 800 people statewide, according to the Maine Maple Producers Association.
“I started out with 10 taps, then I went to 20, then 50 and now I’m just under 700,” Knipping said. “I just enjoy being in the woods. I enjoy making the syrup and having people come in and seeing the operation.”
“Once you get that taste of real maple for the first time when you are a kid you never forget it,” he added later. “It’s a good family activity and a good time killer this time of year when there is nothing else to do.”
With so many people interested in Maine Maple Sunday — held annually on the fourth Sunday in March — some sugar shacks have decided to expand their hours, including Back Ridge. The Winterport sugar shack will be open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24.
To find a complete listing Maine Maple Sunday events, go to the Maine Maple Producers Association website.