Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Let’s Eat: Adirondack Spruce Gum

In the late 19th century, a new fad swept the nation. Chewing gum was decried by newspaper editors and public pundits as “an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance.” Nevertheless, the June 14, 1894 edition of the Malone Palladium commented, “No observant person can have failed to note the marked growth of the habit of chewing gum…in all parts of the country and among all classes.” The paper noted that even the “late Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York was a firm believer in spruce gum chewing.”

The gum-chewing craze began in the conifer forests of Maine and the Adirondacks. Made from the dried and crystallized sap of spruce trees, spruce gum was an important commercial crop in the Adirondack region during the 19th and early 20th centuries. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Battling Dandelions in the Adirondack Lawn

Eventually, every naturalist writes a piece about dandelions, those golden discs of sunshine that dot our lawns, raid our gardens, and provide hours of entertainment for children and frustration for adults. The time has come for me to write mine.

The dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is, quite frankly, an alien invasive. And like many invasives, it has done quite well on our side of the pond. But we really should consider all aspects of this plant before we make any judgments. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let’s Eat: Oval Wood Dish’s Riteshape

The Oval Wood Dish Company was founded in 1883 in Delta, Ohio. Four years later, the company relocated to Mancelona, Michigan. There they manufactured wooden dishes, made of a single piece of wood, scooped out to form a bowl a sixteenth of an inch thick. The bowls were disposable containers used by butchers as temporary containers for the ground beef and other meats purchased by customers. Eventually, the company replaced the wasteful method of scooping out the bowls with a wood veneer, cut and stapled to form a bowl.

In 1892, the Oval Wood Dish management moved operations again, to Traverse City, Michigan. The firm was successful; by 1899, the plant was using thirteen million feet of lumber annually, and its wooden bowls were in “every grocery store in the nation.”

Success had its price, as the local timber supplies began to run out. Oval Wood Dish planned to move again, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Those plans took a turn in 1913 when two of the company’s executives vacationed in the Adirondacks. Seeing the vast amounts of local hardwood, the company moved instead to Tupper Lake, New York in 1918.

The community welcomed news of the company’s arrival. The local newspaper reported that the firm would employ 300 men and 200 girls. New construction would be needed to house the influx of workers and their families. Oval Wood Dish revitalized the small logging town. Its owners held company picnics, built the first ski hill, and donated land for the Tupper Lake Country Club golf course. Oval Wood Dish also employed large numbers of women (unusual for its time), advertising that “Tupper Lake Girls Do Better Here.” Female workers were offered “light pleasant work…the factory is clean, light, well ventilated, and warm in Winter.”

Although the firm struggled during the Depression, the company rebounded with the introduction of the “Ritespoon” and “Ritefork” in 1937. The equipment needed to manufacture the new products was designed and tested in the Tupper Lake plant. The Tupper Lake Free Press announced the new line of Riteshape products: “They are the only wooden spoon on the market with a bowl, and the only ones shaped like a metal spoon. Both products are made from selected white birch, and are smooth and sanitary. There are no rough edges or splinters, and they are not rendered useless by heat, oil, or moisture…even when used in hot drinks.” The Ritefork was shaped like the spoon, but with three short tines—the equivalent of the modern “spork.” Both utensils were “packed in cellophane packages which display the contents but prevent contamination.”

The Riteshape line of wooden tableware proved a success. By 1940, Oval Wood Dish employed 539 workers in Tupper Lake, fulfilling predictions that the new line would revitalize the company: “The equipment already in service to turn them out is being worked 24 hours a day.”

Until it went out of business in 1964, Oval Wood Dish manufactured clothespins, bowling pins, tongue depressors, furniture pieces, commercial veneer, hardwood flooring, ice cream and popsicle sticks, and, well into the 1960s, the small, flat spoons many remember from childhood: “Five hundred million wooden spoons alone are produced annually, and the chances are that the wood spoon that comes with your cup of ice cream …brings silent greetings from Tupper Lake.”

Come see the Oval Wood Dish Riteforks (84.51.3) (“The True Shape of Tableware”) and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Opening for the season on May 28, 2010.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ellen Rathbone: The Vagaries of Spring

How many of you cringed when you heard yesterday’s forecast for up to a foot of snow here in the Adirondacks? And how many merely smiled and said “of course…this is the Adirondacks”? However you look at the meterological foibles of the North Country, you have to admit that living up here keeps us on our toes.

Now, I should confess that I am personally responsible for our latest snow storm. Yes, it was I, for last weekend I foolishly decided to plant my peas. But, in my defense, “they” say you can plant peas as soon as the ground can be worked, and this year that could’ve been March! Peas are supposed to be pretty hardy, though, so I’m sure this white coat the ground is now wearing will do very little harm to the hard round peas that are an inch or so beneath the surface.

But what about all the other trees and shrubs and non-woody plants that greened up early? I took this photo on my way in to work this morning – I love the way the new green leaves stand out palely against the white snow. It’s a lovely color. But will they survive? How much damage will they suffer? I suspect that since the temperatures did not drop radically (we were only 30 degrees Fahrenheit last night), they will come through okay.

Many plants are perfectly well-adapted to the seasonal vagaries of spring. The next time you are out wandering the woods this spring, take a look at the stems and leaves of the earliest bloomers. Odds are you will find that at least some part of these plants is covered with hairs. On some these hairs are fine and a challenge to see, while others are covered with a robust downiness that looks downright furry.

Take coltsfoot, for example. Coltsfoot is probably the earliest “wildflower” blooming around here. Usually not open until about the second week of April in my neck of the woods, this year it presented its first blossoms on the 4th. One might be led to think that this flower had been fooled by the ridiculously warm weather we had in late March and early April, but closer examination of the plant shows that it is prepared for any cold weather emergency. Each stem is covered with overlapping scales as well short hairs, both of which help insulate the plant from the wildly erratic temperatures of spring.

Some plants merely close up their flowers when the temperatures head southward. I imagine this is a strategy to preserve nectar for pollinators. After all, bees and flies and other pollinators won’t be flying around when the mercury falls – they are “cold-blooded” creatures that need warmth in order to move, and if they aren’t flying around looking for food, then they won’t be doing any pollinating. The flowers are better off closing up the shop until the sun comes back out and the customers return.

I was driving through central New York yesterday, in the snow, past all those apple orchards that make this state a major player in the apple market. I didn’t see many trees in bloom, but then it was snowing pretty heavily and I was keeping my eyes mostly on the road ahead. But I know that many fruit growers have been concerned as their fruit trees burst into flower earlier and earlier each year, only to get walloped by a “late season” snow storm (which in truth isn’t really late – everything else is early). When that happens, there isn’t much they can do, for apple blossoms are not designed for freezing temperatures.

Already, though, the snow is melting – large, heavy clods are dropping from branches and roofs. By the weekend, the weather prognosticators say the temps will be soaring up to the seventies! All this snow will be gone – a mere memory recorded in photographs and on blogs. The plants that were prepared will continue to blossom and grow. Those that weren’t will either shrivel up and die or will rally their forces and try to produce a new set of flowers/leaves. It’s the cycle of life. They don’t agonize over it. You either adapt and move on, or your genes do not make it into the future. Hm…sounds like a lesson to me.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Let’s Eat: ‘Brekfast’ at the Lake Placid Club

Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on December 10, 1851, in Adams Center, New York. The youngest of five children, he displayed a propensity for organization and efficiency early in life, rearranging his mother’s kitchen cabinets while she was out. At the age of 12, he walked 11 miles from his family’s home in Oneida to Watertown to buy his first book, a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. In 1874, after graduating from Amherst College, Dewey was hired as the college librarian. Shortly thereafter, he created his first Dewey Decimal System for classifying books.

In 1890, Melville and his wife Annie made their first trip to Lake Placid. Both suffered from seasonal allergies and sought relief in the clear air of the Adirondacks. Three years later, Dewey organized a cooperative venture, which he called the Placid Park Club, by inviting a select few to join: “We are intensely interested in getting for neighbors people whom of all others we would prefer.” The Club was to be “an ideal summer home in ideal surroundings,” where people of like background and interests could socialize in an informal atmosphere. Membership would not be extended to anyone “against whom there can be any reasonable physical, social, or race objection. This excludes absolutely all consumptives or other invalids whose presence might endanger the health or modify the freedom or enjoyment of other members.” The first summer season, in 1895, attracted 30 guests. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Let’s Eat: Rockwell Kent’s Asgaard Dairy

In 1926 artist Rockwell Kent married Frances Lee, his second wife. An infamous womanizer, Kent made little effort to hide his affairs, even bringing some of his paramours home for dinner with his new bride. In less than a year, the Kent’s marriage was in serious trouble. To save the relationship, Rockwell and Frances agreed to leave New York City and move to a place with fewer temptations.

Frances found a perfect spot in the heart of the Adirondacks–an old farm near Ausable Forks with views of Whiteface. Kent remembered his first view of the property: “The nearer we got to the house the worse it looked; and when we finally came so close as to lose sight of its general proportional unsightliness we became only the more aware of its particular shoddiness.” Nevertheless, the couple purchased the property for $5,000. It was about 200 acres, the heart of the farm “being level meadowland, and the rest pine woods and pasture of a sort…Lock, stock, and barrel we had purchased our farm: the land, the buildings, the team, the cows and heifers, the wagons, implements, and tools.”

Within three weeks of purchasing the property, plans for a new house and barn were complete, and within five weeks contractors had poured the concrete foundations. By snowfall, the buildings were under roof. Kent named the farm “Asgaard,” meaning the “farm of the gods” in Nordic myth. He painted the name in four-foot-high letters on the barn.

The property came complete with a tenant farmer on site. Kent purchased a local milk route, and hired the man to manage the dairy operation. The business of farming did not prove very profitable: “You’d think—I mean that people who have never owned a farm would think—that when a farmer, paying his own taxes and all his costs of operation, can earn enough to live, he’d earn at least as much when someone else pays his taxes and his costs for him, not to mention a salary. But it’s funny about farming…It just doesn’t work out that way.” Kent persisted, finding satisfaction in making his land productive, if not entirely profitable.

During World War II, Kent aided the war effort by doubling Asgaard’s milk production, increasing the size of his herd of Jersey cows, enlarging the barn, and installing a bottling plant so he could sell directly to local customers.

In 1948, Kent’s business ran afoul of local political sentiment when he organized a chapter of the leftist American Labor Party. After distributing political leaflets in Ausable Forks, his customers began canceling orders, one of them saying, “We don’t want Russian milk.” The local Catholic priest visited his workers, telling them to quit and asking them if they were Communists. After losing two employees and the major portion of his customers, Kent gave his entire business to two of his remaining employees and asked them to move it off the property as quickly as possible. When he and Frances received death threats, and a warning that “Someday they’ll be up to burn him out,” friend Billy Burgess watched the property armed with two guns.

The national press picked up the story of the controversy, and although Kent estimated that the incident cost him $15,000, the resulting publicity for the American Labor Party was well worth it. Kent himself decided to run for Congress on the American Party ticket, but to no one’s surprise, was not elected.

In 1969, lightening struck the house at Asgaard, and burned it to the ground. Rockwell and Frances rebuilt a smaller home on the site, where Kent, aged 87, died two years later. He is buried at Asgaard, under a slab of Vermont marble inscribed “This Is My Own.”

Come see Rockwell Kent’s milk bottle (2008.21), and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Northern New York Eating Local Conference

If you are not sure to find fresh-picked asparagus, bright red strawberries, sweet peppers, a crisp mix of salad greens, crunchy carrots, white and brown eggs, chicken, lamb and beef – all grown locally in the Northern New York region, but plan to attend one of three “Eating Local Yet?” conferences to be held May 6-8, 2010.

Conference organizer Bernadette Logozar is the NNY Local Foods Specialist and a rural and agricultural development specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County says the types of information to be shared at the conference include: What is the difference between local, organic, grass-fed and naturally produced foods? What are the different types of meat cuts offered by local livestock producers? Where do you find local foods? How do you cook grass-fed beef? Are there ways to eat local foods year-round?

“More and more people are looking to make a personal connection with their food suppliers, but they do not know how to talk with farmers or how to ask for the types of products they want. The “Eating Local Yet?” conference will provide consumers with the knowledge, information and confidence they need to buy and enjoy local food,” Logozar says.

Jennifer Wilkins, a Nutritional Science Senior Extension Associate with the Community Food Systems Project at Cornell University, will provide the keynote presentation at the “Eating Local Yet?” Conferences. Small workshop learning sessions at the conference will include:

“Getting the Most Nutritional Bang for Your Buck with Nutritionist” Martha Pickard of the Adirondack North Country Association

“Buying Meat from Farmers: What Cuts to Ask For and How to Cook Them” with local chefs and farmers

“Seasonal Menu Planning” with chefs from the NNY region

“Is it Local, Organic, Natural – Understanding the Language of Local Foods” with NNY Local Foods Specialist Bernadette Logozar.

Logozar plans to survey conference attendees about the types of future local foods programming they would like to see Cornell Cooperative Extension offer. Survey items are expected to include cooking classes, whole chicken preparation, basic food preservation and other interest areas.

The conference agenda also includes networking time with locally-grown and processed finger foods for tasting. The Saturday program includes a “Healthy Local Foods Lunch.”

Thursday, May 6, 5:30-8:30pm, Plattsburgh High School, 49 Broad St., Plattsburgh.

Friday, May 7, 5:30-8:30pm, Eben Holden Hall, St. Lawrence Univ., Canton.

Saturday, May 8, 10am-3:30pm, Case Junior High School, 1237 Washington St., Watertown.

Pre-registration for the conference is required by May 1, 2010. The $10 registration fee covers the evening and Saturday conference refreshments and materials. For more details and to register for the conference, contact Logozar at 518-483-7403 or bel7@cornell.edu.

For more tips on selling food locally, go online to the Regional/Local Foods section of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Permaculture in the Adirondacks Workshop at Paul Smith’s

How can the ecology of the Adirondacks better inform the ways we grow food and make our homes here? On Saturday, May 8th, 2010, from 10am until 5pm, join professional ecological designer and educator Keith Morris for a day-long exploration of the potential for permaculture design to contribute to ecological regeneration and greater food security in the Adirondack region.

This workshop will introduce a process for analysis and assessment of sites, and provide guidance for good ecological design practice that can be directly applied to your home, farm, or lawn. Participants will learn how to consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function but grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, ‘farmaceuticals’, and fun. The afternoon will be spent in a hands-on application of forest gardening technique with fruits, nuts, berries, and other under-acknowledged multi-purpose plants suitable to the northern Adirondacks as we plan and plant the next phases of a demonstration garden on Paul Smith’s campus.

Keith Morris is a designer, educator, organic farmer, and natural builder who facilitates healthy and healing human ecosystems. His work combines community building, ecological restoration, integrated structures, and diverse, nutrient-dense food production into beautiful and productive whole systems: farms, homes, homesteads, yards, and regional foodsheds. He is Permaculture Instructor on the faculties of the University of Vermont, Sterling College, Paul Smith’s College, the Yestermorrow Design Build School, and has worked for USAID ‘Farmer to Farmer’ in Nigeria and Ghana.

The program will be at Paul Smith’s College. The cost for the program is $25. Lunch is not included, but can be purchased at campus dining on the day. You should bring a notebook, gloves and a bag lunch, if you don’t wish to purchase one on campus.

Registration is required. The deadline for registration is April 24th. Please contact Tom Huber, Director – TRiO Student Support, thuber@paulsmiths.edu or call (518) 327-6330.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Maple Festival at the Adirondack History Center

The Adirondack History Center Museum will hold its Maple Sugar Festival on Saturday April 17th from 9:00am – 1:00pm. Part of the Festival includes a Maple Dessert Contest for kids, youth and adults. Entries will be judged by a panel of five locals with expertise in the production and consumption of fine foods.

Entries must be made with real maple syrup, preferably New York made. Grade B Amber is suggested for its great maple flavor. Entries will be judged on taste, texture, quality, presentation and serve-ability. The winning creation will be featured for a week at the Deer’s Head Inn.

To enter, bring your creation to the Adirondack History Center Museum – top of the hill – in Elizabethtown – by 11:00 AM on Saturday the 17th. Volunteers will fill out your entry form and judging will start at noon. If refrigeration is necessary, please bring the entry in a cooler.

For more information, call the Adirondack History Center Museum at 873-6466 or email echs@adkhistorycenter.org. The museum is located at 7590 Court Street, Elizabethtown, NY 12932.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Let’s Eat: Prohibition and the Burris Whiskey Jug

In 1918, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banning “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States …for beverage purposes.”

The new law was widely unpopular. One Adirondack camp owner asserted, “We looked upon Prohibition as a great disaster. There was no sense of guilt in breaking this law. Everyone we knew shared our sentiments.”

During the “dry decade,” some Adirondackers found their isolated homes and camps made perfect spots for defying the ban on alcohol. Rumrunners smuggled booze from Canada through the Adirondack Park, finding it easier to hide from or outrun Federal agents in the woods. Adirondack neighbors looked out for one another, storing contraband and secretly gathering to enjoy a variety of smuggled or home made brews.

Clyde Adelbert Burris (1883-1957) lived on Pleasant Lake. Like many Adirondackers, he engaged in a variety of work to make ends meet. He worked as a painter and carpenter throughout the year. In the winter he cut and stored ice to sell to campers in the summer and made rowboats which he rented for fifty cents a day, on the honor system. During Prohibition, Clyde Burris made alcohol.

He owned and operated two stills near Pleasant Lake in Fulton County. One was located off the present-day East Shore Road “behind a big rock.” He sold whiskey by the gallon or in teacups to neighbors at “tea parties.” His granddaughter, Joyce Ploss, recalled discovering Burris’ hidden liquor bottles: “At the top of the stairs [there] was a panel which covered a secret room under the eaves. The whiskey was stored in this secret room, and we found many gallon jugs there, waiting patiently to be put to use.”

Ploss also discovered some of her grandfather’s handwritten recipes for making beer (in 6 and 20 gallon batches), and Tokay, alder berry, dandelion, and black sherry wines. His recipe for “Elder Blossom Wine”:

1 quart of blossoms with stems picked off and packed down

Pore 1 gallon of boiling water over them, let stand 1 hour then strain

Add 3 pounds sugar and let it boil a few minutes

Skim well and let stand until luke warm or about 70 [degrees]

Then add 1 grated lemmon and ½ yeast cake

Let stand in warm place for 24 hours and strain again

Then bottle but do not cork tight until it is through fermenting or the bottles will break

When it does not work any more it can be corked tight

On March 23, 1933. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which permitted the sale of certain types of alcoholic drinks. In December that year, Congress passed the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition altogether.

Come see Clyde Burris’ whiskey jug (2004.21), and more, in “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let’s Eat: The Camp Food Grub List

In 2010 the Adirondack Museum will celebrate the food, traditions, and recipes of Adirondack residents, visitors, sportsmen, and tourists with a new exhibition called “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” One of the hundreds of objects featured in the exhibit is a list of supplies for a camping trip made by two New Jersey fishermen.

William Pollack Meigs, Jr. and his cousin Edwin Oscar Perrin took yearly fishing trips in the Adirondacks from 1914 until 1947. Endion, on Long Lake, served as base camp. Over the years, they were accompanied by an assortment of friends and family, and left amusing handwritten accounts and photographs of their adventures. In 2009, Jonathan Murray donated his uncles’ photo album and documents to the Adirondack Museum.

Getting in and out of the woods for an extended fishing trip required careful planning. Meigs and Perrin prepared detailed lists of supplies. Food was a particular preoccupation—what to take and how much were carefully documented for each trip on the “Grub List,” which included Borden’s Milk Powder, Knorr’s Oxtail Soup, bread, chipped beef, bacon, cheese, dried apricots, onions, beans, sugar, tea, rice, prunes, oatmeal, salt, flour, dried potatoes, and—always–curry powder, whiskey, and chocolate.

The men strategically stored food and other supplies in caches along planned routes. Items in their 1946 “Calkins Cache” were “1 can beans, 1 bottle syrup…1 pt Red Eye, 1 lb Sugar—glass jar—screw top, 1 can Hygrade Sausage, 1 batch oatmeal—Tobacco tin—paraffin seal…3 lb salt—In heavy waxed cardboard…and 2 old unidentified cans paraffin sealed.”

At the end of their 1942 trip, taken with friends Ole Olsen and Albert Graff, Ed Perrin tallied up the costs for each member of the party: “You will note that the total amount paid for food was $9.17. That was the only expense we had in camp. That amounts to $2.29 per man per week, or 32 cents per day. We all agreed that we had enough grub for two weeks (or to have gotten along with half as much food), which brings the cost down to 16 cents per day per man….Actually, such a vacation is a lot less expensive than staying at home so, if business gets any worse, we will have to take a lot of trips like this just to save money.”

The men exercised some culinary imagination on that trip with ingredients on hand, making a meal of “Lobster Puree a la Calkins”:

1 can (15 ½ ) old fashioned K beans

1 fried onion

1 cup “Klim” (1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons Borden’s Milk Powder)

2 good slices cheese, diced

1 ½ oz (about 1 jigger) Bourbon, added last

Pour on cupful [of] fried croutons

There is no record of how well this peculiar recipe tasted.

Laura Rice is Chief Curator at the Adirondack Museum. For more recipes, and Meigs and Perrin’s list, visit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.

Photo: “Looking crestfallen after hard day of slash thrashing and rock garden crotch splitting”: William Meigs, Edwin Perrin, Ole Olsen, Albert Graff, 1942.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Forest Economies: It’s Maple Sugaring Season!

It’s bright sunny days like we’ve had for most of this month that bring maple sugaring to mind. There’s just something about the quality of the light that says it’s sugar season. And sure enough, Wednesday morning I heard the first newscast from a sugar house. So, I thought I’d jump in with the best of ‘em and write a post about the sweetness of spring: maple syrup.

Maple sugaring and natural history go hand-in-hand. At least it has seemed that way to me, for most places where I have worked have operated some sort of sugaring operation. One ran a small scale commercial operation (see photo), but the majority were simple demonstration set-ups, where visitors walked a “sugaring trail”, each stop featuring a different time in the history of sugaring, from the Native hatchet in a tree with a wooden bowl on the ground to catch the dripping sap, to high tech tubing that brought the sap directly to the sugar shack.

My favorite, however, was the final stop on the sugaring trail we had in New Jersey. The guys on the staff built a device called a “lazy man’s balance”, consisting of a long arm (log) balanced across the fork of an upright log, with a kettle suspended from one end and a heavy rock tied to the other end to act as a counter-balance. The kettle was filled with sap and dangled above a fire, which boiled off the water. What made this set-up so fascinating to me, however, was the simplicity of the engineering: as the water evaporated, the kettle lost weight. As the kettle lost weight, it would rise a bit higher from the fire. This ingenious device would allow the syrup to condense without scorching.

One of the best things about visiting a sugar bush is getting to sample the merchandise, so to speak. While commercial outfits provide samples in hopes that you will buy some syrup or sugar to take home, nature centers have a different take on it: they just want you to try the stuff. The best sample tables not only give you a taste of maple syrup, but they also test your tasting skills. For example, one place where I worked had samples from sugar, red and Norway maples, Vermont Maid and Golden Griddle (the former has something like 3% real maple syrup, while the latter has none), and a syrup we made from potatoes. Visitors would spear a chunk of Italian bread on a toothpick and dip it into a cup of syrup to taste it. The goal was to pick out which was the real maple syrup. I grew up on the real stuff, so it always amazed me when people couldn’t pick out the real from the fake. And, just for the record, the potato syrup was often picked as the real McCoy.

Which brings us to sugar versus red versus Norway versus black maple. All maple trees produce a sweet sap that can be tapped and boiled to make a sweet golden syrup. So why the hoopla over sugar maple? Because sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the greatest quantity of sugar per gallon of sap. In other words, you need a lot less sap from a sugar maple to produce a gallon of syrup than you would from a red, black, or Norway maple. And how much is that? The general rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of sugar maple syrup. For red maple, you need upwards of 80 gallons of sap to get that single gallon of syrup. On the other hand, red maples (Acer rubrum) are a lot more common across a larger portion of the US than sugar maples, so for many folks they are the tree of choice.

Sugar production doesn’t start and end with maple trees, however. If one travels to Alaska, or Siberia, one will find syrup produced from birch trees. Birch syrup has a different flavor, so don’t dump a bunch on your pancakes and expect it to taste the same. It is described as being a bit more spicy and reminiscent of sorghum or horehound candy. And if you think maple syrup is expensive, birch syrup is even more so. This is because it requires almost 100 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup, there aren’t many people producing it, and it is therefore considered a gourmet item.

March is the time to visit a sugar bush near you. And you might want to take in more than one, because each sugar operation may offer something a little different. Here in the 21st century you can see the whole spectrum of a sugaring operation from a sugar shack that’s deep in the woods and uses horses and sledges to haul the sap from the trees to the evaporators, to a high tech operation that uses a vacuum set-up to suck the sap out of the trees, and then applies reverse osmosis to remove water before the sap even sees the glint of an evaporator pan. A perusal of maple operations in the Adirondacks will turn up outfits at both ends of the scale. So get out your mud boots, grab a road map, and hit the woods – you won’t want to let this springtime tradition pass you by.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Farmers Market Sellers Pre-Season Training Offered

Local farmers interested in selling locally-grown and processed products at farmers markets in 2010 can take advantage of little-to-no-cost tips at pre-season trainings offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension at five Northern New York sites.

Topics for the workshops include making your farmers market display work with hands-on opportunities to create displays, direct market selling of meat products, and how to comply with current food sales regulations and inspectors.

Workshops are scheduled for:

Saturday, March 13, 10am to 1pm – Lowville, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, March 20, 10am to 1 pm – Chateaugay, Knights of Columbus Hall
Thursday, March 25, 7-9 pm – Watertown, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, March 27, 10am to 1pm – Canton, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Saturday, April 3, 10am to 1pm – Keeseville, Ausable Grange Hall.

Those interested in registering for the workshops may call the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office for the county hosting the workshop:

Keeseville – CCE Essex County: 518-962-4810 x404
Chateaugay – CCE Franklin County: 518-483-7403
Watertown – CCE Jefferson County: 315-788-8450
Lowville – CCE Lewis County: 315-376-5270
Canton – CCE St. Lawrence County: 315-379-9192.

For more tips on selling food locally, go online to the Regionall/Local Foods section of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Almanack Welcomes Local Food TraditionsFrom Adirondack Museum Chief Curator Laura Rice

This summer the Adirondack Museum will be offering a special exhibition focused on Adirondack food traditions and stories. I’m happy to report that beginning next week, Almanack readers will be getting a regular taste of the exhibit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” served up by Laura Rice, the Adirondack Museum’s Chief Curator.

The region has rich food traditions that include fish, game, cheese, apples and maple syrup; old family recipes served at home and camp, at community potlucks and around campfires. Laura Rice will be preparing stories drawn from the exhibit that focus on the region’s history of cooking, brewing, eating and drinking. Look for her entries to begin March 16 and continue every other week into October.

The exhibit, a year in the making, will include a “food trail” around the museum’s campus that will highlight food-related artifacts in other exhibits. The number of artifacts in the exhibit itself is between 200 and 300 including everything from a vegetable chopper and butter churn to a high-style evening gown. There’s a gasoline-fueled camp stove the manufacturer promised “can’t possibly explode”; a poster advertising the Glen Road Inn (“one of the toughest bars-dance halls in Warren County”); an accounting of food expenses from a Great Camp in 1941 that included 2,800 California oranges, 52 pints of clam juice, and 90 pounds of coffee; and an Adirondack-inspired dessert plate designed for a U.S.
President.

Chief Curator Rice along with Laura Cotton, Associate Curator, conducted most of the research and writing for the “Lets Eat!” exhibition. Assistant Curator Angie Snye and Conservator Doreen Alessi helped prepare the object and installation. Micaela Hall, Christine Campeau and Jessica Rubin from the museum’s education department weighed in designed the interactive components. An advisory team was also formed made up of area chefs, educators, and community members and two scholars, Marge Bruchac (University of Connecticut), and Jessamyn Neuhaus (SUNY Plattsburgh) also weighed in.

“Let’s Eat!” is sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities and Adirondack Almanack is happy to have the opportunity to share stories from the exhibit with our readers.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Newcomb VIC:Build American Kestrels Boxes, Garden Seed Exchange

On Saturday, March 13, the Visitor Interpretive Center at Newcomb will host a kestrel nest box workshop, a seed exchange program, and a guided trail walk. The Newcomb VIC is located on NYS Route 28N just west of the Hamlet of Newcomb, Essex County. For more information on any of these activities (described below), call 582-2000.

The public is invited to join members of the Northern New York Audubon Society (NNYA) in building nest boxes for American Kestrels from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. Breeding pairs of kestrels in New York have declined significantly over the past 20 years, partly due to both habitat loss as well as competition for nest cavities in suitable habitat.

To address this, local Audubon New York chapters will be building, erecting, and monitoring kestrel boxes in suitable habitats throughout New York State, including the Adirondack Park. Participants on Saturday will also have the opportunity to meet a live American Kestrel, one of the VIC’s educational birds of prey. Pre-registration is not required and the program is free.

On Saturday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. the Newcomb VIC will host a Seed Exchange. Master Gardener Lorraine Miga will lead a pre-season scramble for seeds! Bring seeds you collected from your garden last fall, seeds left over from last summer’s plantings, and seeds from previous years’ gardens. Also get tips on how to save heirloom seeds from your own plants. Among the available seeds will be beans, peas, corn, squash, tomatoes and more. If you have no seeds, but are interested in seeing what others are surplussing, stop by. No seeds will be for sale – all are available for swap only. As with most plant swaps, those who come earliest get the best selection. VIC staff will also be on hand to answer your questions about invasive species in the garden. Pre-registration is not required and the program is free.

Also on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. there will be a guided trail walk entitled “Out and About: Winter Still Here.” Guest Naturalist Peter O’Shea will lead a snowshoe walk on one of the VIC trails. Snowshoes will be available, if needed, at no charge. Pre-registration is required and the program is free.


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