The setting sun made it hard to see all the buckets resting under the maple trees, but they were there, about 60 of them.
The trek through the woods was one of several Corey Lindgren, his girlfriend Brandie Evermoen and father David Lindgren will take over the next few weeks as they collect hundreds of gallons of sap. The sap is then boiled over a wood fire for several hours, strained, boiled again and strained some more, and then boiled one last time.
The collection of maple sap to make syrup began long before Europeans set foot on American soil. Indians were said to be the first to collect sap and over time came up with new and improved ways to process maple syrup.
Each spring, temperatures rise from freezing at night into the 40s or 50s during the day, allowing the sap to run.
Corey, who works full time for the Department of Natural Resources at the Badoura Nursery and now owns his family’s farm just northeast of Laporte in Hart Lake Township, has been collecting sap and making maple syrup for the past few years because he likes being self-sufficient. Besides making maple syrup, Corey raises cows, pigs, goats, chickens and ducks, and every spring has several honey bee hives and puts in a vegetable garden.
“Dad always talked about collecting sap when I was a kid, so we decided let’s do it. We tried it one time before, but the sap didn’t run,” Corey said. “I like the idea of ‘living off the land.’ ”
There’s been no problem with the sap running this spring or the last couple of years. Last season they collected more than 400 gallons of sap that was boiled down into about 155 pints. It typically takes about 30 to 35 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
Corey believes the sap has a higher sugar content this year as it is unusually sticky. Based on what he’s already made, heclaims it tastes better than last year’s product. At this time last year when he was unable to go to work because of COVID, he was able to collect and boil down sap into syrup for about five weeks. This year Corey is working full time.
Over the season, which can last about five weeks, Corey says they normally boil down hundreds of gallons of sap to make enough syrup to last the year. He also shares it family and friends.
Corey uses a 100-gallon bulk tank attached in the bed of his four-wheeler that is driven through the woods to collect the sap. There are about 50 to 60 maple trees that are tapped on his cousin’s property in Wilkinson Township just down a dirt road from Corey’s farm.
Each tree has either one or two spikes — two for the larger trees — inserted in holes that are drilled about an inch and a half into each tree. The sap flows through tubing that drains into five-gallon buckets or kitty litter containers, which are perfect for collecting the sap because they have a built in flip-top lid.
Some people use metal hanging buckets, which are expensive, or plastic bags that can easily get damaged by squirrels and other critters.
Corey also used a little ingenuity to make his boiling vessel to boil down the sap, taking an old fuel tank and turning it into a wood stove where he cut three holes to hold chafing dish containers. This process can take several hours, sometimes all night, especially when collecting nearly 100 gallons in one day.
Once the sap is cooked down into a concentrated form, it is strained through cheesecloth or old T-shirts to remove any sediments. Corey then cooks the syrup over propane until the temperature is about 212 degrees, where he can strain it once again. The final process is boiling the syrup on the stove inside the home until it reaches 219 degrees.
“We really enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of fun and the kids like it,” Corey said of Brandie’s two older children.
And the best way to use the syrup, besides over pancakes, French toast or in coffee, is to pour some over vanilla ice cream, Corey says. “It’s the best!”