ELIZABETHTOWN — Sugar is sweet, and so was the Maple Sugar Festival resurrected here to mark one first celebrated 50 years ago.A pancake breakfast with flapjacks dripping with condensed Acer saccharum sap started the day's activities. This was followed an eating contest whose contestants apparently didn't consume enough the first time. The competition was declared a tie, with Wadhams residents Hannah Looby, 11, and Jesse Misarski, 10, getting their fill."I won't eat another one for months," Looby said afterwards, while Misarski boasted, "I feel like I could eat more, but don't want to."The original festival, also held on the grounds of the Adirondack History Center Museum, was celebrated annually through 1963, and its memory had been lost in the mists of time until, recently, resident Jean LeVien found mention of it in the local memoir "Growing Up Strong."Co-author Melba Wrisley, who read excerpts at Saturday's festival, credited Harry MacDougal, then president of the museum, with organizing the first one. He wanted young folks to learn how syrup was made, she said, and sap was gathered for the event from some 450 of the village's maple trees that lined virtually every street. The first pint of the 150 gallons of syrup produced was sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the next to Governor Averell Harriman, both of whom responded with appreciative letters.The late Elizabeth Lawrence, whose daughter Elizabeth "Betsy" Lawrence served on the committee that revived the event, also wrote about the first festival in her journal."Today was freezing cold "¦ cleared $200 "¦ came home to martini and steak," she penned on April 13, 1957.She also told how had saved three buckets of snow in her freezer for the syrup-on-snow treat called "Jack Wax."Wrisley, in "Growing Up Strong," notes the wax was prepared by pouring boiling syrup over the snow, letting it harden and then pulling off the strips. The gourmets of the time had a sour pickle handy that apparently allowed them to consume more of the super-sweet treat.
In 1960, the festival's highlight was a visit by Aunt Jemima. Then a two-day event, it featured carnival rides and a contest for Festival Queen.This year's festival had a maple dessert contest, with Betsy Lawrence garnering the grand prize with her Mountain Maple Cheesecake.Her confectionery concoction will be featured on the menu at the Deer's Head Inn for a week.Other first-prize winners were Lucy Misarski's sugar maple ice cream in the under 12 category, Kyle Blemel's maple cake in the youth division, and Karen Crowningshield's maple bars recipe in the adult category. After the winners were announced, the desserts were devoured in short order.Revived this year was The Brothers of the Brush contest open to men with beards: winners included Bernard Duso for both longest and whitest; Phil Jackson's was voted thickest and grayest. Marshall Crowingshield had the scraggliest and most promising beard, and the Rev. Fred Shaw was determined to have grown the most distinguished facial adornment.Exhibits included one from the Uihlein Forest Maple Sugar Field Station in Lake Placid, one of maple sugar by Essex Town Historian Shirley LaForest and Cory Gillilland, a winter-art display and a slide show depicting the 1957 festival.Museum Director Margaret Gibbs, pleased with the turnout and contest participation, said the festival will be an annual event once again, growing each year. It will also be part of the 2009 anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's first visit to the lake that bears his name.Brainstorming this year's festivities along with Lawrence, said Gibbs, were LeVien, Duso (who operated the sugar house) and Noel Merrihew.
"It seemed like the right time to restart this nostalgic event," said Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew, who recalled meeting Aunt Jemima as a boy in 1960. "Winter is supposed to have things to do, and by reinstituting it, we will whet people's appetites."