What is maple Sunday in Maine?

Maple Sunday in Maine is an annual statewide event that takes place on the fourth Sunday in March. It celebrates the state’s long history of maple sugaring and gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look into how maple syrup is made. On Maple Sunday, sugarhouses across Maine open their doors to the public for tours, demonstrations, tastings, and fun family activities.

When did Maple Sunday start?

The first statewide Maple Sunday was organized in 1983 by the Maine Maple Producers Association (MMPA). However, maple sugaring has been a long-standing tradition in Maine going back centuries to the Native Americans who originally tapped maple trees and boiled down the sap to make syrup and sugar. In the 1700s and 1800s, Maine was one of the leading producers of maple syrup in the country.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a renewed interest in maple sugaring in Maine. The MMPA wanted to promote maple syrup production in the state and educate people about the maple sugaring process. They decided to designate a day when sugarmakers across Maine would welcome visitors. The first Maple Sunday in 1983 was a huge success with over 90 sugarhouses participating. It quickly became an annual event.

When is Maple Sunday?

Maple Sunday occurs every year on the fourth Sunday in March. In 2023, it falls on March 26th. The date is strategically chosen to coincide with the maple sugaring season in Maine which typically lasts 4-6 weeks from late February through early April. The weather is still cold enough in late March to allow the sap to run in the maple trees.

Where do Maple Sunday events take place?

Maple Sunday events and activities are hosted at sugarhouses all across the state of Maine. Participating sugarhouses can be found in small towns and rural communities from southern Maine all the way up to the northernmost reaches of the state. A few of the areas with high concentrations of sugarhouses opening for Maple Sunday include:

  • Western Maine – Sugarhouses around the Farmington and Rangeley areas host special events and activities.
  • Central Maine – The Waterville and Skowhegan regions invite visitors into many local sugarhouses.
  • Northern Maine – Sugarmakers around Caribou and Fort Kent in Aroostook County participate.
  • Downeast Maine – Washington and Hancock Counties have many sugarhouses that open for tours.
  • Southern Maine – The York County and Oxford County areas feature pancake breakfasts and sights of sap collection.

Some sugarhouses are open to the public for self-guided tours on Maple Sunday while others require advanced tickets or reservations for scheduled tours and events. The MMPA provides a searchable directory on their website so people can find participating sugarhouses by region.

What happens at Maine Maple Sunday events?

Maple Sunday offers a full slate of fun activities that provide an inside look into maple sugaring operations. Popular experiences include:

  • Sugarhouse tours – Walk through the sugarhouse to see sap collection, the evaporation process, syrup filtering, and candy making. Watch demonstrations of tapping trees and sap boiling.
  • Pancake breakfasts – Enjoy delicious all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts topped with fresh maple syrup and sausage.
  • Tastings – Sample various maple syrups, maple candies, maple cream, maple cotton candy, and other specialty maple products.
  • Sugaring demos – See tree tapping, sap collection, syrup boiling, candy making, and filtering demos firsthand.
  • Ox pulls – Watch draft oxen demonstrate how maple sap was historically transported using large sleds.
  • Nature walks – Join guided walking tours through the maple forest to learn how to identify sugar maple trees.
  • Horse-drawn wagon rides – Climb aboard for scenic rides through the maple trees.
  • Maple products – Browse gift shops and markets to purchase maple candies, maple cream, syrup, cookbooks, and other specialty products.
  • Displays – Check out historical artifacts, photos, tree tapping tools, and evaporator displays.

The hands-on demonstrations and behind-the-scenes access make Maple Sunday an especially fun and educational family event. Kids can try tapping a tree, gathering sap in a bucket, and drilling holes in maple candy pieces.

Where does maple sap come from?

Maple sap is the key ingredient behind maple syrup. Sap flows through maple trees in early spring when freezing nighttime temperatures followed by daytime highs above freezing create pressure changes inside the trees that forces sap out through taps. The sap is clear and watery with a slightly sweet taste. It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup.

Sugar maple trees have the highest natural sugar content in their sap, making them ideal for maple sugaring. Sugar maples grow abundantly in the forests of New England and the Great Lakes region. Maine has the ideal climate and soil conditions for sugar maples to thrive.

In early spring, sugarmakers drill small holes into maple trees and insert taps to collect the flowing sap. Traditional taps were simple wood spouts hammered into holes in the trees. Modern taps use a food-grade plastic spout connected to flexible tubing that runs from tree to tree and delivers sap straight to a holding tank.

How is maple sap turned into syrup?

Maple sap goes through an evaporation process to remove excess water and concentrate the natural sugars to make maple syrup. There are a few different methods used by commercial and hobby sugarmakers to evaporate and boil sap into syrup:

Traditional Open Pan Boiling

This is the classic way maple syrup was made by Native Americans and early colonists. Sap is boiled over an open fire in large, shallow pans. As it boils, the steam escapes and the sap concentrates. It requires constant monitoring and takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Open pan setups are still used for demonstrations and by hobbyists.

Modern Evaporators

Most maple syrup operations now use stainless steel evaporators that offer more efficiency and higher yields compared to open pan boiling. Evaporators have two sections – a pan section where sap boils and an upper section called the flue pan where steam from the boiling sap is captured and reheated. This recaptures some of the steam to speed up the evaporation process. Syrup is drawn off once it reaches the proper sugar density.

Reverse Osmosis

Some large-scale operations use reverse osmosis machines to pre-treat sap before boiling. Reverse osmosis removes up to 75% of the water from sap prior to evaporation. This allows sugarmakers to concentrate more sap in each boil and reduces boiling time. However, reverse osmosis also removes some of the subtle maple flavors.

Syrup Grades

As sap boils longer, chemical changes occur that darken the syrup’s color and intensify the maple flavor. Maple syrup is graded by color with each grade representing a specific flavor profile:

  • Golden/Delicate Taste – Boiled briefly, mild maple flavor
  • Amber/Rich Taste – Light amber color, bolder maple taste
  • Dark/Robust Taste – Cooked longer, caramelized flavor
  • Very Dark/Strong Taste – Dark brown syrup with intense maple flavor

Darker syrup is not necessarily higher quality. Grade simply indicates flavor intensity based on color. Lighter Golden grades have a delicate maple sweetness while Very Dark syrup delivers a bold, molasses-like flavor. Many maple connoisseurs enjoy sampling different grades.

How much maple syrup is produced in Maine?

Maine leads the United States in maple syrup production. The state accounted for over 20% of the total U.S. maple syrup output in 2021. Here are some key facts about maple syrup production in Maine:

  • There are approximately 1,200 licensed maple syrup producers in Maine
  • In 2021, Maine produced 675,000 gallons of syrup valued at over $27 million
  • Aroostook County in northern Maine leads the state in production with about 1/3 of all output
  • The average maple operation taps 500-1000 trees and makes 150-500 gallons of syrup per season
  • Maine’s 2021 syrup yield was over 150,000 gallons more than second-place Vermont

Ideal climate and geography contribute to Maine’s top ranking in U.S. maple production:

  • Northern Maine has prime maple tree habitat with rocky, acidic soil
  • Maine has over 175 million maple trees, more than any other state
  • Cold nights and mild days in March and April induce good sap flow
  • Pure water sources help create delicious syrup

Maine also has a long tradition of sugaring. Techniques and skills are passed down through generations of maple farmers. The state consistently produces premium quality syrup with rich maple flavor.

How is maple syrup used?

Maple syrup is incredibly versatile in cooking, baking, and as a natural sweetener. Here are some of the most popular ways to use maple syrup:

Table Syrup

Maple syrup is delicious drizzled over pancakes, waffles, French toast, oatmeal, and yogurt any time of day. It’s an all-natural alternative to commercial corn syrup brands.

Baked Goods

Add maple syrup to cookie and muffin batters, cakes, breads, and other baked goods. Maple creates moisture and a sweet, distinctive flavor.

Glazes and Sauces

Maple makes excellent glazes for meat and vegetables. It can also be used to sweeten salad dressings, marinades, barbeque sauces, and stir fry sauces.


Boiled down further, maple syrup makes delicious hard candies, maple cream, maple butter, taffy, maple sugar flakes, and lollipops.


Sweeten coffee, tea, cocktails, and hot toddies with maple syrup instead of regular sugar. Maple lattes and cappuccinos are popular coffeehouse staples.


Some natural cosmetic companies incorporate maple syrup into soaps, face scrubs, bath products, and lip balms.

Maple Flavoring

Food manufacturers add maple syrup or concentrated maple flavoring to many products like cereal, yogurt, protein bars, and sweet snacks.

Where to buy maple syrup in Maine

There are plenty of places to buy authentic Maine maple syrup to take home:


Many sugarhouses have private labels and sell their syrup right at their facilities. Maple Sunday offers a chance to stock up on delicious syrup at the source.

Grocery Stores

Major supermarket chains like Hannaford and Shaw’s carry maple syrup from Maine producers. Look for labels like Crown of Maine and Maine-ly Maple.

Specialty Food Stores

Retailers like Stonewall Kitchens, Portland Food Co-op, and Carol’s Quality Candy feature high-quality maple from Maine.

Farmers’ Markets

Maple vendors often sell at farmers’ markets in cities like Portland, Bangor, and Bar Harbor from March-April during sugaring season.


Websites like Maine Maple Producers Association, Maple Moose Maple Farm, and Shady Maple Farm offer online sales and ship maple syrup across the U.S.

Gift Shops

Look for maple syrup and candy in gift stores across Maine including airport souvenir shops, highway rest stops, and town general stores.

Maple syrup nutrition facts

Pure maple syrup contains beneficial nutrients and antioxidants that make it a healthier sweetener option when used in moderation. Here are some key nutrition facts about maple syrup:

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup provides 52 calories and 13 grams of sugar
  • Maple syrup is fat-free and cholesterol-free
  • Contains important minerals like calcium, potassium, and manganese
  • High in antioxidants like polyphenols, abscisic acid, catechins
  • Has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic effects in studies
  • Offers small amounts of fiber, amino acids, zinc, and iron

Compared to regular white sugar or corn syrup, maple syrup provides additional nutrients and health benefits. However, maple syrup is still high in sugar, so it’s best enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.

The future of maple sugaring in Maine

Maple sugaring is poised to continue as an important agricultural industry in Maine. Some trends shaping the future of maple production include:

  • New sap extraction techniques to increase yields
  • Advances in reverse osmosis technology
  • Improved tubing, vacuum systems, and evaporators
  • Focus on excellent sanitation and unique flavors
  • Certified organic maple production
  • Concerns about climate change impacts
  • Promotion of maple tourism
  • Growth of international maple markets

Research and innovation will enable Maine maple farmers to improve efficiency and maintain the state’s leadership in premium maple syrup production. The MMPA and University of Maine continue working to support maple producers with resources and technology.

At the same time, the classic small-scale sugarhouse is likely to remain a staple of the Maine maple industry. Many families carry on generations-old sugaring traditions and welcome visitors each Maple Sunday. By balancing innovation and time-honored techniques, Maine will continue making the world’s finest maple well into the future.

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