LONG OVERDUE UPDATE on our growing business

It has been an embarrassingly long time – over a year and a half! – since I last updated this blog.   It’s certainly not for a lack of trying.  But a lot has happened, and finding the time to write about it kept getting away from me. The long and short is that we had a triply successful 2016 season: in the woods, in the sugarhouse, and on the farmers’ market circuit. With the help of Colin Kaferle, our beloved friend and trusty woodsworker, we added close to a thousand taps last year.  That meant more syrup in the bank for all of you – a total of 33 barrels – most of which we were able to sell retail via farmers’ markets and at an increasing number of stores all over Maine.  We also have started aging small quantities of syrup in bourbon barrels, which lends a delicious, subtly oaky flavor to a product already full of woody essences.  Those bottles feature a beautiful new label by Alexis Iammarino with hand-drawn ermines (a favorite sugarhouse visitor) and lettering inspired by old 1950s Chinese restaurant menus. Since we age the syrup in advance, we had only a limited supply in 2016, and it disappeared quickly.  In fact we sold almost all of it at the Common Ground Fair, over three whirlwind and wonderful days! We hope to age about a third of our crop this year to keep up with demand.  We’re now using five-gallon mini-barrels from Split Rock Organic Distillery in Newcastle, which can infuse syrup with all that barrel juice in about half the time. 

Perhaps most excitingly, 2016 brought us a son!  Fed off the fat of trades from the farmers’ markets in utero, he was born on September 9, a happy, pink-cheeked, perfect human! He was, I might add, born a lucky two weeks early, as his official due date was the Saturday the 28th, smack dab in the middle of the Common Ground Fair weekend.  His early arrival allowed him to pay a brief visit to his papa and to Pat Hunt, both of whom heroically manned the booth at the Fair for an insane 72 hours.  While I was massively pregnant and then recovering at home, we also had help from a slew of other friends and family members who worked farmers’ markets, helped load and unload Subaru station wagons full of syrup, and who babysat while I canned syrup and made candy. Of special note: my aunt Sherry and uncle Ted, who have travelled from Vermont a gazillion times over the past year, and who, among myriad other contributions, volunteered their Fourth of July weekend in Jackman, helping to put the gable ends on the sugarhouse at long last.  And worth shouting out, again, Pat Hunt: available at the drop of a hat when we got a scary-early run of sap this February (global warming, much?) his tapping help was absolutely invaluable.  It allowed VJ to spend a few more precious hours with me and the baby, even during his most stressful time of year. As a result, despite the distractions of new parenthood, we’re starting off the season readier than we’ve ever been.

The business, too, is growing.  I was able to leave my teaching job in June of 2015, and now work flexibly as a freelance writer between sugarmaking tasks.  In addition to all the old standbys, we now sell our syrup and candy at Rising Tide Coop in Damariscotta, Local Market in Brunswick, and Fine and Dandelion in Carmel.  And we have been admitted into two new farmers’ markets for the upcoming 2017 season: in addition to Camden and Northeast Harbor, we’ll now be at Bar Harbor on Sundays and in Boothbay on Thursdays from May through October. 

We’ve just completed our first boil of the season, and look forward to a busy month ahead.  This is, of course, our favorite time of year, when, huddled around the evaporator and watching the sap fill the tanks, we can bask in the sweetness of spring.  Then we can bottle it and pass it along to you. 

Cheers to the season, and thanks so much for your support!

-Carrie, VJ and Quinn

Candied Nuts! (OuR recipe)

Here's our recipe for the much-loved maple glazed nuts we sell at the farmers' market (at least when we have our act together).  As our market season starts to slow down, I remind you that you can buy our syrup and make your own!

You will need:

a large, heavy bottomed sauce-pan

several cookie sheets

2 pounds of nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds are preferred by us)

1 pint (give or take) Frontier maple syrup

1/2 a tsp cinnamon

1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla (optional)

salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a saucepan on the stovetop, combine all ingredients.  The nuts should be immersed in the syrup but not drowning.  Cook the nuts on high heat, stirring frequently.  As the syrup begins to crystalize and coat the nuts (you'll see less liquid in the bottom of the pan), remove from heat.  Let stand 10-12 minutes, until slightly cooled (the color of the syrup will change from shiny to "matte").  Stir to evenly coat, then spoon onto cookie sheets in a thin layer.  Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until crispy. These are delicious warm from the oven, but are shelf-safe and will keep for several weeks without refrigeration.   

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Happy People: Life on the Taiga (an update from the heart of sappin' season)

It's tedious to talk endlessly about the weather, but such tedium is actually relevant to sugarmakers.  So I'm going to just warn you now: this blog entry is basically a detailed weather report.  The past week (also known as my "spring break") started with a trip to Maine Guide Snowshoes, outside of Bingham, to pick up a new pair of handmade-by-veterans, old-fashioned wooden snowshoes for VJ, whose last pair finally bit the dust after three years running.   As a snowshoe design expert after years of trying the more gear-y variety available at outdoor equipment stores, VJ recommends Maine Guide, which are nice and sturdy and which float beautifully in snow. (For the love of God, don't buy MSR snowshoes.  We've gone through two pairs in two months!)  Even so, the owner of Maine Guide, when I stopped by to pick up VJ's replacements, told me that she'd never seen such a worn-out pair.  

Running this wintry errand turned out to be a apt way to start the week: I was met by snow, rain, snow, rain, and more snow out on the frontier, despite the warmer weather I left further downriver.  Also apt was viewing  "Happy People," Werner Herzog's documentary about trappers on the Siberian Taiga, which Colin, VJ and I watched on a laptop in the sugarcamp trailer one night.  It was easy to draw some parallels.  "Spring comes late to the Taiga" - the first words spoken in the film, over images of sand-dune-sized snow banks in a remote village.   Yes.  Yes it does.  This became our refrain as we woke each morning to a perpetual late-April Narnia.  Other parallels: inconvenient fallen trees (including two that blocked the driveway after a windstorm on Tuesday night), gathering drinking water by snow-melt, and bearded men hiking around a vast wilderness in wool coats. Some differences: we are not sable hunters, we do not fashion our own skis out of spruce logs, and we do not, as yet, feed large quantities of fish to our dogs.  

Obviously, it's been a slow sugaring season this year, with a decidedly late start and a very gradual thaw.  The sap's been coming in off and on - not exactly gang-busters, but enough that we've been averaging a barrel a day and keeping up with woods-work while it trickles in. Phew.  (When it freezes at night, which it has been, the cold extends the season, prolonging the time it takes for trees to produce buds.)  On Thursday and Friday things got so cold that sap froze in one of the lines up the hill, causing some hiccoughs in our vacuum system.  Then, on Saturday, after a 3-inch accumulating overnight snowfall, things kicked into high gear and suddenly we were swimming in sap. I spent Saturday afternoon monitoring the RO machine while VJ and Colin worked in the woods.  On a concrete slab with no heat source, 40 degree weather feels cold, if not exactly Siberian. (Thanks to a military-style bivouac sac that our friend Randy Visser bequeathed to VJ, he's managed to stay warm sleeping by the machines so that he can periodically open an eye and check on things.)  

Here's the irrefutable evidence that spring is here after all: I left Sandy Bay Township yesterday on a high note - a double-barrel day.  Both barrels (#14 and #15 of the season) contain some pretty lovely syrup - light and delicate like the snowflakes that preceded it.  Fingers crossed that the snow takes it's merry time melting into mud and the sap keeps coming in gang-busters.

 VJ's first pair of Maine Guide snowshoes - perfect for the Taiga.

VJ's first pair of Maine Guide snowshoes - perfect for the Taiga.

 An icy selfie taken in the stainless steel reflection of the Reverse Osmosis machine.  

An icy selfie taken in the stainless steel reflection of the Reverse Osmosis machine.  

 Drawing syrup off the evaporator before filtering it.

Drawing syrup off the evaporator before filtering it.