To most people, the first harbingers of early spring are longer days and snow turning to slush. Thanks to longtime Lynnhurst resident Bill McKinney’s hobby, other sure signs of spring are buckets, tubes and taps collecting sap from maple trees around the neighborhood and the delicious syrup McKinney produces in his garage.
Bill’s curiosity in making maple syrup about ten years ago led to his family tapping trees on their block to collect sap in plastic one-gallon jugs. The McKinney children had a great time going around the block checking on the sap, and their first season produced 1 or 2 gallons of syrup, which Bill and his wife Amy shared with the neighbors who let them tap their trees. While any variety of healthy maple at least 10” in diameter can be tapped, what makes a tree a “good producer” remains a mystery to McKinney. He says, “I have a huge silver maple in my yard which rarely produces more than 5 gallons, and I’ve got a pretty small sugar maple at our neighbor’s that reliably produces 15 gallons of sap per year. My best tree is my college roommate’s tree at 45th and Dupont. It’s a giant sugar maple and produces 30-40 gallons of sap per year, which is enough for a gallon or so of syrup.”
Bill volunteers considerable time and effort helping Lynnhurst neighbors harvest sap from their trees and making maple syrup. After starting the “South Minneapolis Maple Syrup Group” on NextDoor last fall, Bill arranged supplies for 35 families to collect sap starting in early March. And over several weekends, he used a home-made, propane gas-fueled contraption in his garage to boil down nearly 400 gallons of sap to make nine gallons of maple syrup. Everyone who dropped off sap to his garage received a jar of syrup in return based on the amount of sap they collected. According to him, “The biggest producer gave me 53 gallons of sap, and the smallest brought 2.5 gallons. Everyone got some syrup, though, which was really fun.”
Tapping trees and collecting sap is simple, but boiling is the most time-consuming and hardest part of making syrup. For those attempting to boil their own sap at home, McKinney’s only advice is to “boil sap outside unless you have a really good exhaust fan over your stove. The amount of steam you produce with even 5-10 gallons is substantial. Unless you don’t mind wiping sticky residue off your kitchen walls, ceiling, cabinets, etc., keep things outside if at all possible!”
As maple syrup is plentiful in the McKinney household, they enjoy eating and sharing it throughout the year. “It’s always fun to serve to out of town guests and tell them we made it ourselves. People are always intrigued and a bit amazed which is fun. One of the best things we use it for is in my friend’s barrel-aged cocktails. He usually gets a couple of quarts of syrup, so he combines it with bourbon or rye and various other ingredients and ages it in small barrels. He always keeps me stocked with great cocktails. It feels like a sort of circular system…he gives me sap, I turn it into syrup, he turns it into cocktails and we both share them!”
If more people want to harvest sap and make maple syrup next year, Bill says he is willing to boil but may need some volunteers to help. “I’d like to run things more like a co-op where folks sign up to watch over the boiling for a few hours…it was really fun to meet so many new people this year, and I think that’s really the value here. I don’t claim to be an expert, but just by trial and error, I’ve learned a lot and I’m happy to share.”
For more information, look for Bill’s “South Minneapolis Maple Syrup Group” on NextDoor or search online for many available resources.