Sweet Springtime: Sugaring Season in the Adirondacks

by Guest Post on March 3, 2012

in Food Adventures, Outdoors with Kids

maple-tapThere’s nothing like that magical time in the northeast when the sun beats stronger, the days last longer and you can see the gritty snow banks begin to shrink. Oh, there will be more snow, more ice, more cold nights, but in your heart, you know that winter’s hold has broken and spring is on its way.

Those are the days that maple producers in the Adirondack wait for all winter, the day that the magical combination of warm days and freezing nights send the sap flowing through the maple trees. Then begins the tapping, evaporating, filtering, funneling and fun of maple season, which the larger producers have been preparing for throughout the year. There’s a celebratory air when the weather breaks and sugaring begins, and sugar makers throughout the state open their doors to welcome guests.

In the small southern Adirondack town of Thurman, three of the region’s largest maple farms – and a sawmill – host open houses each of the last three weekends in March during Thurman Maple Days. This year the fun begins the weekend of March 10th and 11th, and continues on the 17th – 18th and 24th – 25th.

maple-pancakes-Mike-Hill

Doors stay open from 10 to 4 each weekend day, with one site, Valley Road Maple Farm, opening at 9 to begin serving fluffy flapjacks drizzled with pure, sweet Thurman maple syrup and accompanied by famous locally-made Oscar’s sausages. After you’ve sated your hunger and pushed away from the table, take a tour of the facility, which has just doubled its collection capability by leasing and tapping a new sugarbush, utilizing 12 miles of new tubing and installing new equipment to handle the extra sap. When you are ready, follow your map to the other three sites, all within a few short miles of each other.

Closest at hand is Martin’s Lumber (also on Valley Road), which takes the opportunity in March to show off some of its finest live edge maple slabs, beautifully grained for bar- or table-tops or rustic benches. The Martins will explain how they practice sustainable forestry, just as the maple producers do, in order to protect their woodlands for use by generations to come. With selective cutting of trees and the most economical sawing of each log, sawyer Gary Martin obtains the most board feet possible for the purpose at hand. Gary was nominated one of the top ten “Greenest New Yorkers” in 2011. While you are visiting Martin’s Lumber, see how Wini Martin recycles paper – making gem-like beads for earrings, necklaces and bracelets, a craft she pursues when she isn’t working in the mill with Gary or creating her other specialty, stained glass stepping stones. If time allows, you may have a chance to try your hand at bead making, or perhaps folding an origami box to take home a purchased piece of jewelry.

After your visit to Martin’s Lumber hop back into the car and journey a couple of miles over Number Nine Mountain to Adirondack Gold Maple Farm, where the legendary maple character “Tapper” will show kids young and old how to tap, gather the sap and boil it. Tapper collects some of his sap in buckets, the same way his father and grandfather did in this very same sugarbush. Those who bring snowshoes may use them here (weather permitting), or even try out a pair of “big foot” snow shoes.

Ready to go inside? Stop in at the sugarhouse to see all the products prepared here, and try a taste test to see if you can discriminate between the real thing and maple flavored corn syrup. Those who have really skilled taste buds may be able to distinguish grades of syrup, and everyone will be intrigued by the recipes available. As co-owner (“Mrs. Tapper”) Cheryl Kenyon says, “Syrup isn’t just for pancakes anymore.”

Toad-Hill-Maple-Farm

And then it’s off again, this time to check out Toad Hill Maple Farm, winner of a 2010 USDA grant to help build its brand new super energy-efficient sugarhouse, stocked with state of the art equipment that drastically reduces fuel use while producing more syrup than ever. The main task of maple producers is to evaporate the excess water from sap, reducing it to syrup or sugar. With the ratio of over forty gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, that’s a lot of boiling. Toad Hill’s new sugarhouse has a reverse osmosis filter that removes 75% of the water before boiling. Then it goes to a wood-fired evaporator that burns wood as efficiently as possible by forcing combustible gases back into the firebox to be ignited. A SteamAway ™ helps preheat new sap by utilizing steam coming off the evaporator.

Like each of the maple farms, Toad Hill invites you to browse in its shop, stocked this year with many new products. In addition to the tried and true maple syrup, cream, sugar and candy, this year you’ll find maple coffee and tea, popcorn and cotton candy, along with cookbooks, and non-maple items such as balsam pillows and caps.

maple-sugar-party

Touring Thurman during Maple Days can keep you busy from morning till late afternoon, and if you go the very first day, March 10th, you may also attend the Thurman Maple Sugar Party, a local tradition for 53 years. This all-you-can-eat buffet is modestly priced and is crowned with a dessert of traditional jack wax, also known as “sugar on snow”, a chewy maple dessert to die for. Regional musicians will entertain while you wait for your turn at the groaning board. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.

If you’ve been itching for some pretext to break out of the house, celebrate spring and visit the Adirondacks, Thurman Maple Days is one great excuse.

If You Go

To get there from Albany – Take I-87 (Adirondack Northway) north to the first exit beyond the three Lake George exits – Exit 23, Warrensburg. Take NYS route 9 north into Warrensburg, and at the second light turn left on NYS route 418. Follow it across and along and back across the river into Thurman. Follow signs to the tour sites. Find maps and addresses at on a brochure found in the area, or at www.PersisGranger.com.

What else? Gas up before leaving Warrensburg, as there are no operating pumps in Thurman. Plan to spend at least a day; consider an overnight. If a pet travels with you, for its safety and that of others, please leave it in your vehicle. Questions gladly answered at ThurmanInfo@aol.com or by phoning Thurman Maple Days chair, 518-623-9718

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Persis Granger is a freelance writer and YA book author who spends an inordinate amount of time working on and publicizing neat events in the tiny southern Adirondack town of Thurman. Find her also at www.persisgranger.com, a site for people who love writing, reading, artistic creation, and friendly, small towns.

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