WINTHROP — Maple syrup fans braved brutal blasts of wind Sunday to trek to various producers who opened their doors for Maine Maple Sunday.

The attraction was the sweet, sticky syrup, but that was outweighed by the need to crowd around the steaming evaporator at Mike’s Maple House in this town west of Augusta.

Mike Smith patiently answered question after question from visitors, all the while keeping a close eye on the sap boiling furiously in the long, wood-fired evaporator.

His wife, Clair Smith, stood behind a table filled with small, maple-leaf-shaped glass bottles and plastic jugs of pints and quarts of bottled syrup, part of last year’s 68 gallons. “We just opened this weekend,” she said.

The sugar shack is a Smith family endeavor. Smith built the wooden sap house in 1998.

“He’s been making syrup longer than that,” said his daughter Christie Andrews, as she collected money for syrup sales. “He was doing it on a pan on a burner in the driveway.”

Mike Smith hopes for a harvest of 150 gallons of syrup this year. “I’ve got trees enough tapped,” he said, but added that he knows it’s up to nature, temperature and tree. “I grew up on a farm.”

His best yearly harvest was 210 gallons.

Mike’s Maple House is open most days. “If there’s steam coming out, I’m boiling. I’m here,” Smith said.

His son Jason Smith bent over a tap at the bottom of the evaporator tray, repeatedly testing the density of the product by pouring the boiling sap into a tall tube with a thermometer inside.

Another daughter, Rhonda, doled out scoops of vanilla ice cream, lacing the top with squeezes of maple syrup from a yellow bottle.

The treat was popular with children, but few adults could bring themselves to eat ice cream in such cold weather.

At a small table nearby, grandchildren Olivia and Austin sold handmade jewelry.

Mike’s Maple House was the second stop for 11-year-old cousins Alexis Leeman, of Waterville, and Isabella Derose, accompanied by her father, Nick Derose, of Vassalboro

“Isabella and I used to tap trees and bring Mike our sap and had him boil it down for us,” Nick Derose said. “But this winter is too brutal. We didn’t bother to tap trees. Maybe next year.”

The trio already had made a stop at the Bacon Farm Maple Products in Sidney, which was also open for Maine Maple Sunday.

“I’m freezing,” said Anna August, 6, of Winthrop, as she left the shack and headed out into the wind.

“We ate lots of ice cream with maple syrup,” said her brother, Jaxon, 8.

Their father, Ryan August, said the family was going home for lunch. “Grilled cheese and tomato soup to balance out the sugar rush,” he explained.

Maine Maple Sunday, a project of the Maine Maple Producers Associaiton, is held annually on the fourth Sunday in March. This year, almost 100 producers participated, mostly in the southern half of the state.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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