Friday, March 2, 2018

This Weekend In An Adirondack Sugar Shack

Mike Todriff firing the sugar boiler in 2018 (Shannon Houlihan photo)It’s that time of year. The sap is running and the buckets and tanks are filling. Backyard syrup makers large and small have been taking advantage of the recent sugaring weather to fire their arches and settle into the ancient and accepted rite of watching the boil.

Whatever you call it – a sugar party, sugaring-off, maple days – people will gather this weekend in old sugar shacks across the Adirondacks around rising steam for one of the great revelries of the season.

You can guarantee there will be food.  Pancakes and sweet breads and coffee sweetened with syrup (and maybe a little nip to get the day started right). There’ll be sausage or maybe a pork loin, and probably a nice smoked fish caught this week before the ice went out. There’ll be jack-wax on snow in bare hands. Syrup and hot dogs.

There’ll be jokes, and kids and stories of seasons past.  That time Mike, in his cups at an early hour, nearly tottered into the pan. Voices raised about wood-splitting competitions.  There will be line tightening and bucket gathering, temperature taking and fire stoking.  Standing around a steaming pan of sap there will be quiet talk and shuffling feet. The occasional “it’s really boilin’ now” and “it’s gettin’ there” – the poetry of the sugar maker.

There’ll be scientific discussions. Great debates on the efficacy of only-dreamed-of labor saving contraptions. Long back-and-forths over sugar content, hydrometers and hydraulics; the relative merits of the gravity feed and vacuum pressure; and boisterous battles over the BTUs of the wood supply.

Boiling maple syrup is as much science as it is art of story-telling, sticky sweet poetics, and sittin’ round the steam.

Learn more about maple sugaring in the Adirondacks, including the many events taking place around the region, here.

Photo: Mike Todriff of Chestertown fires a vintage sugar boiler this week (photo by Shannon Houlihan).

Related Stories


John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




One Response

  1. James Fox Jim Fox says:

    Takes me back. Good memories.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *