Buffalo man taps into the art of maple syruping
In Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the maple syrup season is roughly during the months of March and April, when temperatures during the day are above freezing, and overnight temperatures dip below freezing.
During these months, it’s common to see buckets attached to the trees to collect sap that is made into syrup. While many trees in secluded areas and along roads winding through the country are host to the multitude of buckets, one would not expect the “tapping” to be in their own yard, but a drive down 4th Ave. NW in Buffalo would prove otherwise.
In 2016, Ross Miller’s neighbor was tapping trees to make syrup, and Miller told him that he could tap his tree. In 2017, Miller asked when he was planning on tapping the tree, because sap was seeping out and sticking to his truck parked underneath.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna do it,’ so I said, well, I guess I’ll have to!” Miller shared.
Miller and his grandson tapped the tree and boiled the sap into syrup for the first time in 2017, and it’s become a family event every year since.
“In 2018, some of the neighbors said I could tap their trees, and I’ve been adding a bucket or two ever since then,” Miller said.
Miller also has taps at his parent’s home in Truman, Minnesota.
“They had never done it, and they just get a kick out of it,” he said. “My brother collects sap for me while I’m not there, too. It’s also including the next generation – my nephews’ and nieces’ children are coming out and wanting to learn about it.”
Taking up the hobby of maple syruping also fills some time in Miller’s life.
“I say it keeps me busy during the period of time between working on the house in the summer and ice fishing in the winter,” Miller said.
Figuring out how to make maple syrup isn’t as hard as one might think.
“It’s kind of cool, because you can just go on the internet!” Miller said with a laugh.
To make one gallon of syrup, it takes about 30-40 gallons of sap, and the syrup needs to be at seven to seven-and-a-half degrees above boiling.
Miller’s set up first began with a simple turkey fryer/cooker, and now includes hydrometers to get his syrup as close to the ideal boiling temperature as possible.
“Even that doesn’t always get you the best [measurements],” Miller shared. “To get an idea of where I’m at, I always try to put it into the Wright County Fair. They always tell me that I’m too thick! From doing that, though, I’ve been able to make adjustments.”
With a large quantity of sap needed to make one gallon of finished syrup, one might not expect this hobby to produce a significant amount of syrup, but don’t underestimate Miller’s maple syrup operation.
“This year is going to be a quick season, and so far, we have about 500 gallons between the two locations,” Miller said. “Last year, we did over 1,300 gallons.”
Miller’s set up allows him to boil 12 gallons an hour, and one weekend he recorded boiling 400 gallons. His reverse osmosis technique saves the sugars in the sap and disposes of the purified water separated from it, cutting the process time in half.
The syrup is then poured into containers and labeled. After his first year of maple syruping, Miller took a class at Abundant Kitchen in Buffalo on canning and learned how to properly preserve his product.
“I didn’t have to do anything special, because the sugar is its own preservative,” Miller explained. “On our label it says, ‘refrigerate after opening,’ and I do know that it will mold if you do not follow that simple instruction. It’s probably good for two to three years on the shelf.”
Eleven Sixteen Syrup
The name of the syrup, Eleven Sixteen, is a connection to the military and served as a remembrance of a family member.
“On November 16, 2005, over in Fallujah (Iraq), I lost a nephew,” Miller shared. His nephew, Roger Deeds, served as a lance corporal in the Marine Corps.
“It wasn’t that Roger would eat tons of syrup or anything, but with my plan to give it all away to veterans, I thought they would appreciate the story [behind the name],” Miller said.
Miller’s syrup is also unique in that it won’t be found at a local farmers market or being sold for profit.
“What I try to do is give it to veteran organizations that do outings with veterans,” Miller, a Navy veteran, shared. “I’m never trying to profit off of it; by the time I boil it, I’ve actually lost money.”
From offering a way to honor his nephew, to passing down the experience to younger generations in the family, Miller’s hobby of maple syruping has become a much-anticipated event every spring, enjoyed and appreciated by many.