The Adirondacks are dripping in pure maple syrup, and that means the tradition of sugar-making is back for another year. This amber-sweet season attracts locals and visitors alike to maple producers who proudly share their obsession. Tour the sugar bush where taps and metal buckets collect sap from trees. Enter steaming sugar houses where sap is boiled into distinct grades of syrup. Meet the people who make syrup, and candy, and peanut brittle, and sugar, and popcorn… or, skip straight to the pancakes and sausages. Welcome to Thurman Maple Days, where life is naturally sweet.
Sugaring has been part of the Original Vacation for centuries. Native Americans and Europeans alike cooked maple goodness dating back to the 1500s. While the exact origin of maple treats is fuzzy, the maple process has remained mostly the same. Fresh sap from trees is boiled in a kettle and refined through a process known as reverse osmosis. Water is separated from the sap, and voila, pure Adirondack maple syrup!
Maple Days has been embedded into the culture of Thurman for generations. Every year, four Thurman farms produce pure maple syrup and other maple treats. Each farm has a unique history and process, and they all open up their shops and sugar bushes to spread the magic of the maple season. Sugar houses are open to the public in order to teach the tap-to-table process including the display and demonstration of all things maple. Even the non-maple farms get into the action, turning the town of Thurman into a complete springtime destination.
The Thurman Maple Sugar Party serves as the kick off to Maple Days. Held on the first Saturday of Maple Days at the Thurman Town Hall and sponsored by the Thurman Station Association, this party taps the annual festivities in Thurman. A Maple Days tradition since 1959, the Maple Sugar Party serves an all-you-can-eat buffet while collecting money to be donated to the American Cancer Society. On the menu is all things maple, including a specialty known as jack-wax. Jack-wax is commonly referred to as “sugar on snow,” and most likely came from Native Americans. It is a delicious treat that consists from thick maple syrup being poured over shaved ice. As the maple syrup freezes on the snow, it turns into a concoction similar to taffy. This community event is affordable to attend, so don’t be afraid to bring the entire family. And there is more than just maple going on at the Maple Sugar Party. Local musicians will be on hand to provide lively entertainment and set the mood. In its 58th year, the Thurman Maple Sugar Party is a fitting kickoff to Thurman Maple Days.
Toad Hill Maple Farm is another stop on the Thurman Maple Days list. Toad Hill, a 760-acre swathe of Adirondack forest, has been in the Galusha family for over 30 years. 100 of those acres are used to make maple products, which amounts to over 3,700 maple trees in use. Toad Hill uses the reverse osmosis technique, which is a highly efficient method to remove water from the sap. If the system is running well, they can turn 1,000 gallons of sap into 25 gallons of syrup per hour. Toad Hill also opened a state-of-the-art timber frame sugarhouse in 2011, which is helping improve the maple process. However, for Maple Days, they’ll also demonstrate the old way to make maple syrup, which is in a large cast iron kettle hanging over a blazing fire. At Maple Days, take a tour of their maple kitchen, where Toad Hill accomplishes so much of the magic of maple goods. Sample maple treats and be sure to take home some maple syrup, maple cream, maple candy, and maple sugar. For a completely special and highly unusual event, check out their trebuchet which fires chunks of wood long distances twice a day. That’s Maple Days with a twist!
Hidden Hollow Maple Farm is the fourth maple farm on our list. With over 40 years of syrup experience, this third-generation maple farm ran by the Wallace family knows their stuff. They’re a huge producer of Lake George Area syrup, with over 5,000 trees tapped. They hold to the old ways of syrup production, using a wood-fired evaporator to boil the sap. They watch the sap temperatures manually and then hand-draw the syrup when it’s at the perfect temperature. Their mastery of all things maple comes from years of experience and a healthy gut-feeling. According to Hidden Hollow Maple Farm’s website, “old traditions help us let nature be its most delicious.” The syrup is tasty, so we can’t say we disagree. Along with excellent maple syrup, which is sold in glass maple leaf-shaped bottles, they make a tree load of maple products, such as maple candy and maple cream. They also sell some unique items such as maple jelly, cinnamon maple sugar, maple pepper and more. Hidden Hollow Maple Farm is doing a lot right, and the proof is in the syrup that can be found in the Dining halls of SUNY Oswego and at food expos across New York State. We suggest you check them out.
While Thurman Maple Days is about all things maple, there are places to check out that are sweet in other ways. One of these places is Nettle Meadow Farm. Nettle Meadow Farm is a working cheese farm, boasting over 300 goats and dozens of sheep to make their products. They’re also an animal sanctuary that happily takes in farm animals that are a bit less fortunate than others. The sanctuary’s large family includes dozens of older and unique animals such as male goats, fowl, and horses. You never know what you’ll find in the sanctuary, but the cheeses are always delicious. Nettle Meadow has a whole slew of award-winning cheeses, such as their Kunik cheese, a triple crème wheel of goat milk and cow cream. Depending on the weather, they will be holding cheese tastings and hourly farm tours, where you can meet baby goats and lambs. Make sure to stop in their shop before you leave, as they’ll be selling their cook booklets, and of course, their cheese!