FORT KENT, Maine — There’s just something about the sweet, gooey nature of maple sugar taffy that brings out the kid in everyone.
Since 1999, local syrup hobbyists Henry Carbone and Camille Theriault have helped hundreds of University of Maine at Fort Kent students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members tap into their inner child during the campus’s annual Sucrerie, a celebration of Acadian maple sugaring traditions.
“Everybody just loves this,” Carbone, a retired Fort Kent high school teacher, said as he poured thick maple taffy onto a tray of snow to harden. “This is fun for Camille and I to do [and] we call it giving back to the community.”
It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup, Carbone said. The two men then heat that syrup to 236 degrees to get the correct taffy texture.
The art of pouring it onto the snow and then scooping a glob of the sticky, sweet confection onto a wooden stick is a practice steeped in the tradition of the local Acadians, when gathering and boiling maple sap was a family affair.
“I came up to visit my dad [and] it’s been years since I’ve seen maple taffy on the snow,” Louise Kirkland of Brewer said as she handed her father his third helping of maple taffy. “We used to go to Canada with Mom and Dad as kids to watch them boil the sap.”
Her father, 89-year-old Ludger Ouellet, recalled those days as “good times” with his family.
“Man, this is good,” Kirkland said, after adding to her taffy a healthy scoop of peanuts — a favored local variation. “It’s all about the peanuts.”
Eileen Bouchard brought 18 children on a bus to the event as a way to show the youngsters a bit of Acadian culture.
While some might question the wisdom of giving a group of 2- to 6-year-olds free access to maple taffy, there was no denying the educational opportunity that included the taffy demonstration, a traditional Acadian meal and Acadian music.
“We are teaching our kids about culture,” Bouchard said. “This is a big part of the Acadian culture.”
That’s a sweet sentiment to Lise Pelletier, director of the campus’s Acadian Archives.
“The big thing here is this is like a giant kitchen party,” Pelletier said from inside Nowland Hall where hundreds gathered for the meal and to listen to the music. “Years ago people didn’t need to go out; they all had instruments, played music and would push the tables and chairs out of the way and just swing.”
More than 500 people attended the Sucrerie.
Hannah Voisine brought her children Gavin, 5, and Ella, 3, to experience a taste of her family’s culture.
“The kids really like the taffy and it’s a neat way to teach them about their heritage,” Voisine said. “Hands-on is the best way to teach them, even if the hands get sticky.”