March 06, 2018
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.
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. 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."
"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.
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. "
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."
Twain was so well-known locally that he received a package addressed, and misspelled:
Mr. S.L. Clemens
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."
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.
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.
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.