Sunday, March 25, 2012

Maine Maple Sunday 2012

Now Playing -  Crazy In Love by The Puppini Sisters

Life -

One thing Linz and I have always enjoyed is doing the local tourist things. We find that a lot of people never take the time to explore the area they live in and we've been guilty of that lately too. SO this weekend, we bit the bullet. The last weekend in March every year, the state of Maine's Maple Syrup makers or Sugarhouses have an open house when visitors can stop by, check out their setups, try some sweets and buy their pure maple syrup. 
We wanted to go last year but lost track of time until we'd missed it, but this year was perfect. We both had it off and the weather, though not the shorts weather we've had the last few days was a perfectly gloomy and wet 45. Just right for coffee and maple goodness and a drive through the hills in a cozy car.
The production of "Real" syrup is a pretty involved process and is more about timing than anything. When nights stay cold but temps rise to above freezing during the days, the sap of the Maple tree starts running and at some point in the distant past, men realized that if they tap that and boil it down, they get a truly delicious treat. Most places still do it the old fashioned way - a couple of hollow spikes in a tree and either buckets or a series of lines that lead the sap down to a series of wood fired boilers that condense 40 gallons of sap into one gallon of syrup in an extremely complex process.  "We boil the crap out of it."  - Bob's Sugarhouse Employee.
Dover Foxcroft
Initially, we'd planned to start out the day at the Firehouse in Dover-Foxcroft, a cute little town to the north that we really like, but the firehouse was PACKED to the brim and we had better things to do than stand in line for an hour. So we headed down the road a bit to Bob's; a small, wooden building along the road with a front end filled with treats and assorted bottles of golden syrup and a back room filled with the massive steel evaporator. The treats, including fried dough and syrup, maple coffee, maple butter, maple carrot cake, maple cider and maple whoopie pies were pretty tasty and doled out by the bored offspring of Bob himself, who chatted amongst themselves about the quality of balloons this year compared to those of yore while studiously ignoring us. 
We ate outside in the cool air then went back in and bought a small tub of the maple butter. In a plastic container that used to say "Maple Cream" but someone cleverly crossed out "cream" with a marker and wrote "butter" in its place. It will be delicious on many, many things. 
The Interior Of Bob's Sugarhouse
But one thing we'd hoped for was missing - we wanted to know what the different grades of syrup tasted like without having to buy a whole bottle of light, medium and dark amber. Next on our path, the Breakneck Ridge farms where they make their own syrup and raise bison for their meat. They promised  maple tea and buffalo burgers.
Where we almost stopped for lunch, the sublime Spring Creek Bar-B-Q
It had started to get colder, hovering around freezing and small flakes started to fall as we weaved further northeast into Maine. About an hour later we found the place, up a somewhat muddy road topped by a sign - 
We walked. As we reached the property, an orange and white dog that we mistakenly thought was called Molly greeted us and, after passing inspection, we were allowed to enter. I was a little bummed that the fire wasn't going in the syrup room, as it was getting cold, but the employees/family at Breakneck was much friendlier and talkative, giving us samples of maple tea, maple Italian dressing, maple whoopie pies and maple buffalo jerky. They also had samples of light and dark amber syrup. 
The light is what most people that have had real maple syrup get which, to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of on pancakes and the like. I enjoy the flavor, but I like it better by itself. The dark was better, it had a deeper, woodsier flavor with a touch of smokiness.  We bought a small bottle of the dark and some jerky and wandered down the hill in the snow to grab a buffalo burger and some buffalo chili.
The food wasn't the greatest. The burger was tender and had the distinct flavor of bison that I like, but it was too thick and small around and far too undercooked for my taste. The chili was better - lots of meat and beans with a taste that reminded me of turkey chili oddly, and it had virtually no spice at all. But sitting under a canopy with the snow drifting around and the cute old farm dog hanging out with us was really nice. 
Overall, it wasn't the tourist extravaganza we'd expected, it seemed like most of the visitors were residents that use the day as an excuse to buy their yearly gallon of syrup, but it was a nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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