March 2012 Archives
June 2011, I woke well before dawn, excited about my first opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Saratoga Racetrack. The weather was nice and comfortable, the clouds and haze started to burn off quickly as the sun came up.
I was thrilled to be there, even more so because it was turning out to be such a nice day. I did my best to stay out of the way, the stables and training area were very busy!
My wife and I recently took the Maple Syrup Tour in Thurman, NY, a few miles west of Warrensburg. ( http://www.persisgranger.com/ThurmanMapleDays.htm).
Sugar House at Toad Hollow Farm
While there we learned all about how to make various maple related products, such as syrup, maple cream, candy, and maple sugar. We visited several sugar houses and watched as the sap was collected and boiled. We got to sample many products from each sugar house. The variety and excellence of each product was amazing. One sugar house did things the old fashioned way, gathering a lot of the syrup by hand in old fashioned buckets. A true New England art form. Other sugar houses are fully automated now, with miles of blue tubing running from tree to tree through the sugarbush, gathering the sap and piping it to the sugarhouse to be collected and boiled. Whether done the hard way or the automated way, the products were tasty and visually pleasing. We got to see some amazing equipment and to talk with the owners about the challenges they face each year. For sap to flow, the weather must have warm days followed by cool nights. Since this winter has been unseasonably warm, there have not been enough cool nights to really get the sap flowing, so the sugar houses will not be able to produce as much syrup this year as they did last year. Normally they average about 900 gallons of syrup a season, but this year, it might be as little as 600 gallons. A real financial hit for the businesses. Most of the owners have a full time job and do sugaring on the side, because it is very difficult to make a full time living with maple syrup. Despite their bleak financial circumstances, they were invariably cheerful and happy to talk to anyone who would listen about their passion. It quickly became our passion too when we sampled their products!
Afterward, we had a communal dinner in the Thurman Town Hall. It was a real slice of Americana, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet catered by the good citizens of Thurman. Let me tell you, those folks know how to cook! There were so many different things to try. For dessert we got to sample Jack Wax. For the un-initiated, Jack Wax is made from maple syrup that has been warmed up and drizzled over fresh (clean) snow. The act of drizzling it on the snow turns it into this gummy, congealed consistency that sticks to everything! But it is absolutely delicious!
All along the way, people were so friendly and eager to help. We took a wrong turn on a snowy, muddy road, and when we tried to turn around, we got stuck in a ditch. It was a little way out side of town and there was no one around to help. We walked about a mile or so down the road and found the former Bear Mountain Lodge, which is now called Taste of Poland (http://www.taste-of-poland.com). After a little wait, we got Martin to come with his SUV and tow us out. I offered him $20 and he graciously refused any compensation. What a great person. You can bet we will be visiting his restaurant soon to pay him back for his generosity.
If you have never had the opportunity to go maple sugaring, I highly advise that you go and learn more about this most interesting way of life. Check your local listings, especially here on Saratoga.com for sugar houses in your area. But hurry, it's almost over for another year!
Below are links to some of the sugar houses on the tour. And below that are photos from the events.
Adirondack Gold Maple Farm
Toad Hill Maple Farm
Sugar House at Toad Hollow Farm
The blue hoses are bringing the sap into the sugar house
This is what you often encounter in the sugar bush. Bears are sweet lovers and often chew on the lines.
Old fashioned tools of the trade
This is one of the boilers used to boil sap. No more iron kettle over open fire.
Raw sap coming into the boiler before filtering. Appetizing, no?
It takes a lot of wood to make syrup.
Adirondack Gold Sugar House. They have a really cool demo that shows how folk used to collect sap and boil it down.
This is the old fashioned way of collecting sap. Adireondack Gold is modernized for most of their sugar bush, but they maintain a small area dedicated to the old ways to show folks. It was very interesting, and labor intensive!
Selecting just the right tree. The guide was really playing up to the kids, but the adults learned a lot too!
Coaching a willing victim to drill the hole for the tap.
The hole does not hurt the tree. Depending on the size of the tree, up to 3 taps can be drilled.
The tap in place-ready to hang the bucket and attach the lid. The lid is attached to keep dirt and debris, and renegade squirrels out of the bucket.
Buckets lined up waiting their turn to hang on a tree.
In May of 2011, I visited the harness tack at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway. I was hoping the rain would hold off a bit, but as I pulled into the parking lot it was apparent that I would have no such luck. One benefit of overcast weather is the wonderfully soft and even lighting that it provides, so photographically speaking I guess I lucked out after all.