Creative Sustenance

Culinary and other adventures in foraging, gardening, urban farming and more, in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Maple Syrup

This month I had the pleasure to learn the craft of making maple syrup with Jack Kretsch of Kretsch Family Maple Syrup. Jack and his wife Bonnie live outside of Manitowoc, near Whitelaw, where they have a hundred or so sugar maple tap lines running each year at the close of winter. I knew the high quality of Kretsch maple syrup because we used it for our Sunday morning breakfasts at Stumpjack, in our special french toast (I must remember to share that recipe here) and our baked oatmeal. Kretsch Maple Syrup a relatively small operation and their syrup is something special; it's sweet but not cloyingly so, it is lighter in color, golden brown rather than the dark, caramelized brown you see in many syrups. It's a natural and pure artisan syrup with a flavor that is entirely unadulterated.

Tap lines one a large maple tree. On one of the days we collected sap we harvested 277 gallons.

I told Jack's daughter Heather last year that if they desired any help with the maple syrup production I would be eager to join in, so that I might learn some of their secrets for producing the delicious elixir (yes, I've enjoyed it right from the glass, straight up, no chaser). Heather contacted me and said that her dad could, in fact, use a little help with this season's harvest and production. I was excited to be of assistance wherever I could. Unfortunately, I didn't get to help nearly as much as I had hoped, because the season was cut short by the uncharacteristic warm weather we've had this year. I was hoping to participate all the way through April but this year's season lasted just three weeks. Jack confirmed that last weekend was pretty well the end of it. The nights were not getting cold enough to produce the kind of sap flow they needed.

Wood burning stove that cooks the sap and steel pail collected cooked syrup through a filter.

But I did get three or four days in where I got to lend a hand collecting sap and hanging out with Jack in his sugar shack while he processed the sap into syrup. I wasn't able to be there when he did the final filtering and bottling, which bummed me out a bit because I wanted to get photos of every step during the process. Next year.


Jack Kretsch shrouded in steam inside his sugar shack as he cooks maple sap into maple syrup.

I took a lot of photos and a little bit of video, and I learned a lot and had a great time getting to know Jack. (I may have to profile him in a future article; the man does a heckuva lot of interesting things and is quite a character.) I shared the photos on my facebook page; the few shown here are from that album.

Jack in his poker room with a couple bottles of Kretsch Family Maple Syrup.

I told Jack that I have a small maple tree in my yard, and he gave me a tap, line and pail to see what I might be able to draw from it. It's a small diameter tree that I planted maybe 15 or so years ago from a little sprout that was growing in the hedge row between us and our neighbor. It shot up like a weed and is as tall as our two-story home now. I didn't get much sap from it, only a gallon or so. Last night I boiled down what I had collected and was very excited to be able to bottle some maple syrup. It was a damn small bottle (a former hot sauce bottle), but it's maple syrup I actually made myself from my own tree. And that's a pretty sweet deal.

My own maple syrup. Next year I intend to pursue making maple syrup on a larger scale.

I'll follow this entry up with one that goes into the actual process of making maple syrup, and will share some of the lessons I learned from Jack that I think help set his syrup apart from some of the others on the market.

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