Spring Means Maple Syrup
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 both made 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 of 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. Now in its 6th decade, the Thurman Maple Sugar Party is a fitting kickoff to Thurman Maple Days.
Pancakes and Syrup
No maple syrup celebration would be complete without pancakes. The pancake breakfast served every Saturday and Sunday morning of Maple Days is a can’t-miss highlight of the three-week-long event. Steaming pancakes are flipped all morning long, going from griddle to grumbling stomach until everybody is served. With an event like this, the cooks always need help. Lucky for them, the Upper Hudson Maple Queen is there to assist with all of the pancake flipping and serving. In true Thurman fashion, the pancakes are served covered in pure Thurman maple syrup. And of course, no Adirondack breakfast is complete without some Oscar’s Adirondack Smokehouse products. Oscar’s maple-smoked breakfast sausage is fried up along with the pancakes, adding some tasty meat to this sweet morning meal.
The pancake breakfast is hosted by Valley Road Maple Farm and its proprietors, Mike Hill and Ralph Senecal. The Hill and Senecal families have been running this 30-acre farm for several decades, and their experience shows in their maple products. After guests have had their fill of pancakes and Thurman maple syrup, they’re invited to take a walk back into the two sugar bushes to inspect the farm’s 3,400 vacuum-fed tree taps. They love to show off their skills with presentations, both during Maple Days and beyond, including welcoming schools to the farm for educational field trips. Their sugarhouse is top-notch and state-of-the-art, using a reverse osmosis technique to produce abundant amounts of maple syrup in a shorter amount of time, making life much easier on the farm. All of that sap allows them to create amazing maple-themed products, such as maple syrup, maple sugar, maple cream, maple candy, maple roasted peanuts, maple peanut brittle, maple cotton candy, and other delectable maple treats. Valley Road Maple Farm has been recognized for their goods including a win in the Vermont International Maple Syrup Contest for light amber syrup, and a three-time New York State Fair winner for their maple candy. All of these products are available for sale at the farm, as well as Oscar’s maple syrup, of which Valley Road is the exclusive maple syrup provider. Their bacon-infused syrup is excellent, and you need to make sure you buy a jug before leaving Thurman.
Next on the maple farm list is Adirondack Gold Maple Farm. Named after the golden hue of maple syrup, Adirondack Gold Maple Farm is a must stop on the Maple Days farm tour. This sugarhouse, operated by Cheryl and Marc Kenyon, is another notch on Thurman’s belt for amazing maple syrup. Adirondack Gold Maple Farm is home to 1,200 taps, including 100 old fashioned bucket taps, and a 2×6 wood-fired stainless steel evaporator to boil the sap. Adirondack Gold is a third-generation maple farm, started by Marc’s grandfather, Oscar. Their maple products and process will be on full display during Maple Days. They’ll be offering tours of their farm and their store will be open, where visitors can find maple-themed items like cotton candy, coffee, tea, cookbooks, and maple donuts. Families are invited to take part in farm-themed activities every weekend of Maple Days, such as testing out different types of syrup to determine which is authentic and which is fake. “Tapper” will show kids how to tap trees, gather sap, and boil it into maple syrup. Adirondack Gold also encourages snowshoeing so sap-seekers can trek into the woods. Bring your own, or if you’re lucky they may have some available.
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.
Not Just Maple Syrup!
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!
Come Taste for Yourself
Another Thurman farm inviting guests to meet their animals during Maple Days is the Peru Llama Farm, which as their name suggests, is home to llamas. Visitors to the farm during Maple Days can take a tour and meet the animals. Llama-lovers may even get kisses so make sure to bring a camera. Learn the entire life stories of the llamas, such as their diet, how they herd, survival, and their complex communication. Participate in role-plays and training designed to teach llamas to not fear humans. Kids can crawl around in the hay and souvenirs will be offered. For those interested, Peru Llama Farm will have bags of highly effective odorless fertilizer for sale. Yes, the llamas helped to produce the fertilizer.
Martin’s Tree Farm and Sawmill gets into the Maple Days action as well. They’re not a maple farm, but their business is still trees. The Martins are owners of a certified tree farm and practice sustainable forestry. They have a portable band-saw mill and welcome guests to inspect some cut maple trees that display markings of long gone taps. They have beautiful boards displaying maple grains, which would look great as a bar or table top. Martin’s Lumber is also home to Lucyann’s Stained Glass Stepping Stones & Paper Bead Earrings where you can find unique jewelry and stained glass. Martin’s Lumber is a great stop after you’ve had your fill of maple.
Maple season is short, especially if the weather doesn’t cooperate. After three glorious March weekends, Maple Days is but a sweet memory. But just as winter always sets in, spring always rescues the Adirondacks and the sap always runs. If you’re in Thurman on a sunny weekend this March, stop by a maple farm. Sample the syrup and take a tour. This relic of the Original Vacation is still flowing strong.
Visit our website for more information about farms & markets in the Lake George Area.