Tapped and ready to go

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 12:40 PM

All over the metro area, maple syrup producers both large and small are waiting for the season to take off.

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Roger Schmidt of Plymouth hung a bucket getting ready for the sugaring season. An avid tapper, he says he likes syrup on “just about anything,” even eggs and salad.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Roger (Pete) Schmidt, 86, is keeping a close watch on the maple trees in his yard.

The Plymouth resident is expecting the sap to flow just about any day now.

Every spring, Schmidt taps lots of maple trees in his area of the “Big Woods,” or what’s left of it, to make maple syrup, which has been a family tradition since his great-grandparents farmed this very same land.

Personally, Schmidt likes to drizzle maple syrup on pancakes, eggs, ice cream, salad — “just about anything,” so he’s looking forward to replenishing his supply, he said last Wednesday, pointing to bare shelves in the cool cellar of his home. Maple syrup makes for a good sugar substitute, he said, adding, “When you live in the woods, you do as they do.”

A lifetime in the woods has taught him to be patient and to wait for Mother Nature to reach just the right weather conditions for maple syruping. Last week, it was too cold, so he didn’t see too much activity in the trees, Schmidt said. But he has higher hopes for this week or next.

For maple syrup producers like Schmidt and others across the metro area and beyond, taps are in and ready to go, and it’s a waiting game at this point.

Schmidt is unsure of what this season will bring, though, he’s guessing it’ll be “fair” and probably not as impressive as last year. The spring came on so gradually that “the trees ran like the devil,” he said, adding, “You almost had to gather the sap twice a day.”

By the end of the run, he wound up with 53 gallons of syrup, which got divvied up among his family and friends.

But in 2012, it was a whole different story. The change from winter to spring happened in about a week, which made for an all-too-brief maple syrup season, he said.

And just as the big trees around him are disappearing, giving way to development — Schmidt donated 2.7 acres of the natural area to the city last summer to offset that — maple syruping is largely “going away in this country,” he said.

Interest is up

But on the local level, the activity is seeing something of a resurgence, according to Chris Ransom, secretary for the Minnesota Maple Syrup Producers Association, a nonprofit group that offers resources to maple syrup and sugar hobbyists and commercial outfits.

Ransom, a Vadnais Heights resident, said the activity has garnered more interest in recent years, at least from what he can tell anecdotally. The organization’s membership has risen, probably by about 15 percent over the past eight years. “My gut feeling is that more people are making it” outside of the association, as well, though he’s not totally sure why, he said.

In his own case, he decided to try it after reading about it in the newspaper a dozen years ago.

For some people, maple syruping is a new tradition.

Coon Rapids resident Jeff Gomall likes that it gets him outside in the springtime, and he enjoys the manual labor involved.

He harvests the syrup at his relatives’ Andover home. His dad and his two sons get involved, too. He hopes they’ll carry it on into the future. “It’s neat to be a first-generation syruper,” he said.

Gomall has gone from tapping 25 trees to 100 trees. Last year, he boiled sap for 26 hours straight. “It’s addicting. Me and my buddy Brandon, we seem to always want to do more,” he said.

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