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Weather makes for a ‘sappy’ year

Soudan maple syrup producer sees record sap runoff on Birch Point

Marcus White
Posted 4/11/19

REGIONAL - It was not Mother Nature playing an April Fools Day joke on John Lindquist when he collected 144 gallons of sap from his sugar maple trees on Birch Point on April 1.

“We had never …

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Weather makes for a ‘sappy’ year

Soudan maple syrup producer sees record sap runoff on Birch Point

Posted

REGIONAL - It was not Mother Nature playing an April Fools Day joke on John Lindquist when he collected 144 gallons of sap from his sugar maple trees on Birch Point on April 1.

“We had never gotten over 80 gallons of sap in one day,” Lindquist said. “This year the trees went nuts. The perfect storm of weather has been absolutely the best.”

That “perfect storm” entails temperatures that fall below freezing at night but warm into the upper-30s or 40s during the day. It’s those variations in temperature that make the maple sap run.

So far this year, the area has seen several continuous days where the oscillation has been perfect and that’s been a boon to maple syrup producers in the area.

In Ely, Cody Perkins was just tapping his trees two weeks ago.

“I’m not quite sure how much he will get,” Perkins said. “I tapped eight trees. I got a gallon out of the same eight a few years ago. At the moment, we’re just watching.”

Perkins is no stranger to the art of maple syrup, having grown up in Bennington County, Vermont.

In a typical year on Birch Point, John and his wife, Denise, collect about 700 gallons of sap from about 200 maple tree taps on Birch Point. This year, the trees on Birch Point are set to deliver over a thousand gallons if the temperatures stay stable through the end of this weekend.

John and Denise then transport the sap to their home near Soudan where they maintain the “sugar shack,” filled with knick-knacks to keep them company, while they stand watch over their boilers for up to 18 hours a day.

Denise starts the fire between 6 and 7 a.m. and John puts the last batch of wood in before bed at midnight.

“It doesn’t matter how many trees you have, it’s how many taps you have,” John said as he stirred the latest batch during Monday’s rainy weather. “A tree should be 9-10 inches across to have one tap. When they get 12 inches across, you can get 2, 18 inches for three, and 24 for four.”

He added he never has more than four taps to a tree.

From sap to syrup takes the Lindquists about 24 to 26 hours-worth of boil time. It takes about 30 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

The majority of the syrup goes to market in Ely and Tower, fetching $10 a pint. Denise boils the sap further to make maple sugar candy for the couple’s grandchildren.

The Lindquists will continue collecting sap until at least the beginning of next week, which is about when John expects the trees will start to bud.

“When buds on a sugar maple start to swell, the flavor changes,” he said. “The sap turns yellow. The flavor is just lousy and rotten.”

A labor of

memories

If you’d asked John and Denise several years ago if they’d sit in a shack on their property watching sap boil for 18 hours a day, they may have had a different answer.

The couple originally bought their Soudan property for deer hunting with the kids and grandkids in mind.

“We really weren’t into it then,” John said.

As a child in Pine City, John had some experience with the sugary syrup after he began helping a local family tap their trees.

“We used a horsedrawn carriage to carry out sap,” he said. “There was no science really and no regulation 50 years ago. It was old school science and art.”

He’d have another round with maple syrup when he and his family moved to Mt. Iron and began a Cub Scout pack for their sons.

“We tapped trees to do something with the scouts,” he said. “We cooked in our home; we made a few gallons.”

The same family motivation keep Perkins going when he taps the trees with his children in Ely.

“I want my kids to see it,” he said. “My father does it, my grandfather did it, and their grandfathers did it. I hope that they can see that you can still make stuff, you don’t have to go to the store to buy it.”

For the Lindquists, the family would acquire property in Soudan and Birch Point. That’s when they found out that friends Jim Macomber and Ann Flanagan were tapping trees next door on the point.

“We were out collecting and turned out they had the cabin right next to ours,” John said. “They asked if we wanted to tap the trees.”

Soon after the two families began tapping trees together, Jim was diagnosed with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The diagnosis consolidated the two families’ maple syrup operations into one, and John and Denise would eventually inherit much of Jim’s boiling equipment when he passed away.

In 2017, the Lindquists built a sugar shack on their property and while sap and syrup are the main affair, they’ve made the shack into one of memories, with Jim and Ann’s old boiler, and a stove once used by John’s grandmother.

Pictures and other knick-knacks line the walls with memories and a cabinet stands ready to take in more family heirlooms.

John laughed as he stirred the boiler, noting that he can’t even eat the sweet stuff he and his wife spend so much time making.

“I’m allergic to maple syrup,” he said. “I eat it very sparingly. I love the flavor, but it doesn’t like me.”

The syrup from this spring will be available at markets in Ely and Tower when they open for the season later this year.

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