Maple with a past
Maple with a great past
On the Quest for the Tallest Tree

Turns out, maple syrup has a connection with Mark Twain.

Mark Twain Mapleworks is a sugarhouse on the shores of Ampersand Bay on Lower Saranac, part of the same complex where Mark Twain stayed for the summer of 1901. It's utterly appropriate, as it turns out. A list of "Mark Twain's Favorite Foods" reads: maple syrup, cranberries, raccoon, garden produce, canvasback ducks, and wild turkeys.

So he would be pleased.

Starting small

Jack Drury, aka Bushwhack Jack, is looking forward to the Maple Syrup weekends this year, the first since his mapleworks really found its feet. After his wife invested in 10 acres of nearby Dewey Mountain, it took a couple of years for them to realize "this new place turns really red in the fall -- we have a lot of sugar maples!"

Once the idea hit, it began as a "kettle over a campfire" and is now a full-fledged sugar shack. While Jack began with buckets, he now has a tubing system that runs downhill from his sugar maples, straight into the shack.

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks/BushwhackSugarShack.jpg) with alt text: "All a sugar shack needs, with the blue pipe (at left) transporting the sap."

He's been creating product, too, from maple cotton candy to maple cream (perfect for those maple-cinnamon rolls). "It's so overwhelming, and then, you want more." See it being made in the video, above.

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks/MarkTwainMaple.jpg) with alt text: "Mark Twin Mapleworks now offers a wide variety of maple products."

"When I started, people told me that having a sugar shack is like a social magnet. And it turns out to be so. People love to drop by and chat. I find myself bringing my laptop out here and getting some writing done."

I agree. There's something about the contrast between the chilly outside and the warm, steamy, inside that makes you want to settle in for an exchange of stories and some tasty treats.

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks/boilerfedwithwood.jpg) with alt text: "Jack has been told that people can taste the difference wood-fired makes."

Jack uses an all-wood boiler system, "Though some people use oil or other fuels. I went traditional. I've been told people can taste the difference, though I'm not sure how. But I do get compliments on my stuff. "

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks//earlysugarhousesteam.jpg) with alt text: "This early sugarhouse steam is not as intense or sweet as it will be when the syrup becomes more concentrated."

Jack is excited about his new osmotic separator which will help cut down on his energy consumption. "It takes a lot of wood to bring it from the 2% sugar in the sap to the 67% of real maple syrup. With the new device, I will have more concentrated syrup before it goes in the boiler."

And sweeter steam.

Mark Twain's summer

The present camp was built in 1900, and Mark Twain and his family were the first residents, in 1901. Per Historic Saranac Lake:

He called the cottage "The Lair." He said "Everyone knows what a lair is, lairs generally do contain dangerous animals, but I bring tame ones to this one." His cottage is described as having a balcony overhanging the lake "charmingly like sitting snuggled up on a ship's deck with the stretching sea all around" and "the effect engendered is just a deep sense of comfort and contentment."

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks//MarkTwain1901-porch.jpg) with alt text: "Mark Twain on the porch of the Mark Twain Camp."

Twain was so well-known locally that he received a package addressed, and misspelled:

Mr. S.L. Clemens
The Liar
Lower Saranac Lake

He set up a tent with a plank floor for his writing. The Sherlock Holmes pastiche, "A Double Barreled Detective Story," was published in Harpers Magazine, and is currently available via The Gutenberg Project.

While he did not return, he did declare that "it has been a paradise to us all summer."

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks//marktwainspancakemix.jpg) with alt text: ""The best mix ever" claims Jack, who extensively tested it."

Still, forever after, it was known as Mark Twain Camp, as the sign over the drive declares. Jack also uses a famous photograph, taken by Ema Rice, a neighbor who was hired to row Twain around the lake, to decorate his products.

Totally natural

While Mark Twain Mapleworks is perfectly situated for gravity to bring the sap from the mountainside to the sugarhouse down by the shore, maple is always a very local, very organic, kind of product. The trees take care of themselves, and the only thing a syrup maker does is take the water out of the sap to make it concentrated.

Nutritional analysis indicates maple syrup is very high in manganese, an important mineral for bones, wound healing, and anti-inflammatory action in the body. Reason enough for real maple syrup on those flapjacks.

Because once you taste the real thing, there's no going back.

Missing image ( Pamela Merritt MapleWorks/Sugarshackdoor.jpg) with alt text: "Jack "Bushwhack" Drury is a one-man operation from tree to table."

So stop by and stock up this spring. Remember, NYS Maple Weekends are the second and third weekends in March, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's a unique time and place to experience this most amazing process of nature.

With treats.

Enjoy NYS Maple Weekends at Mark Twain Mapleworks. Stay the whole weekend at some of our charming lodging. Seek out some maple specialties at our local eating and drinking spots.

This week in related ADK stories:

Feeling sappy

Insider’s guide to Whiteface trails

Bloody Pond & wonderful waterfalls

Lodging neighbors: stay & explore

P-2’s pub history

Sweet! It’s maple time!

Speculator for the summer

Author:Pamela Merritt
Maple with a great past
On the Quest for the Tallest Tree

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