CUMBERLAND — Apple and pumpkin jockey for fall flavor supremacy, but this year in Maine, maple is making a run for autumnal relevance.

I judged the Maine Maple Producers Association recipe contest at the Cumberland Fairgrounds Friday, where Georgetown resident Katherine Vaillancourt’s maple haddock won the entrée round and best in show awards.

When she won, Vaillancourt was shocked. Her priceless reaction made everyone’s day.

WMTW’s Steve Minich, WGME’s Katie Sampson and I served as guest judges for the contest. We judged three recipes over three rounds; a beverage, entrée and dessert. We ranked them on a one to five scale.

There was one beverage — a minty maple julep — made by Portland resident Ned Wight. There were two entrées and two desserts.

Vaillancourt’s maple haddock recipe derives from a friend’s modified recipe. It tasted almost like a haddocky version of apple crisp. Crumbled crackers atop the haddock soaked up maple syrup. The presentation of the dish in a glass cup was appealing, and the circular nature of the dish itself helped meld the flavors together for a thick haddock top and a sweet, milky bottom.

Traditionally held the fourth Sunday in March, Maine Maple Sunday was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Scott Dunn, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association and owner of Dunn Family Maple Syrup in Buxton, was on hand to explain the purpose of the first Maine Maple Producers Weekend, which officially kicked off with the recipe contest and runs Friday through Sunday.

Dunn spoke to the judges about the weekend’s importance. It was planned to help maple producers recoup losses from missing out on this year’s Maine Maple Sunday and provides an alternative time to celebrate Maine’s strong maple tradition. The association hopes this weekend is the first of an annual fall maple weekend. Concurrently, North American Maple Tour, which includes all of the nearby maple producing states, kicked off Friday and runs from Oct. 9-18.

Our taste testing experience started with the julep. The drink, garnished with mint and served in a cup filled with finely crushed ice, was definitely different. I am not much of a cocktail person myself, but the 10 a.m. julep surely woke me up for the day. I had a few sips, just enough to get a good idea of the taste.

We then sampled Vaillancourt’s haddock. I’m not usually a haddock fan, but this fresh Maine haddock tasted unlike any other fish dish I’ve had before. The buttery smooth and sweet coating complemented by a comforting aroma left a positive impression.

The second entrée, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, was a gluten free maple turkey chili. Brian and Suzanne Dunham of Dunham Farm in Greenwood slow cook the turkey on a wood stove. The maple flavor was not as evident as in the haddock, but I liked the consistency of the chili. It was more like a pulled turkey and would’ve been great as a Sloppy Joe.

Suzanne and Brian Dunham’s maple turkey chili.

“It’s a group project between Brian and me,” Suzanne Dunham said.

They serve a pancake breakfast on Maine Maple Sunday, but they are not serving pancakes this weekend. Their farm is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Chili, though, is on the menu. The Dunhams were the only contestants who run a sugarhouse. Recipe submissions occurred online, and contestants transported their goods made from home.

Although maple season is short, just a month or two during the late winter, Suzanne Dunham believes there would be sufficient product for a Maine Maple Sunday and fall event every year.

The maple bacon and corresponding recipe from James and Lori Candelora of Hollis Center.

“It’s kind of nice to have something this year, so we hope they keep it up,” she said.

The Dunham family also supplied the first dessert, a maple frosted cookie topped with pecans.

The winning dessert came from Jason and Lori Candelora of Hollis Center. A gooey, chewy maple bacon came from a recipe created by Jason. It was sweet and salty and the thick slab of bacon held the maple coating nicely.

Awards were presented outside, and all of the contestants smiled behind their masks.

You can tell by looking at the eyes.


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