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Tapping into generations

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Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2019 5:00 am

In late March, Kenneth Melvin Wasserzieher can be found driving a Kubota tractor around his property near Tame Fish Lake, collecting sap from some of the same maples he tapped as a child. Kenneth is the third generation of the family to live on his paternal grandfather, Otto Wasserzieher’s 1884 homestead, along with his wife, Sharon Wasserzieher.

Kenneth often enjoys reminiscing of childhood, walking around with a little tin can to collect sap at three years old. Maple sapping was a process that involved cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“It was very simple in those days,” he said, adding, “We did just enough maple syrup for the family for the season. It was a family affair.”

Kenneth’s father, Edward Wasserzieher, had an inherent talent for sheet metal working and eventually created an evaporator pan. When Kenneth’s three sons Kenneth William Jr., Steven and Brian Wasserzieher were school-aged, they also took their turns carrying buckets to collect sap.


Nowadays, the Wasserzieher’s maple syrup operation runs with the help of friends and family. Ideal conditions for tapping maples are when temperatures reach below freezing at night and above 40 degrees in the day time. When the trees start showing their buds, the sap will turn milky and the season is over.

“We tap about 300 trees,” Kenneth said. “Some of these trees have been tapped for 50 years and don’t seem to show any ill effects.”   

First a 5/16 inch hole is drilled into the base of the tree about 2 ½ inches deep, 3 to 4 feet from the ground, and a spigot (spile) is tapped in place. This encourages the sap to flow. Back in the 1940s, Kenneth used hand-carved sumac spigots. He’d later use cast aluminum, and now plastic spigots.

A tree tapped for syrup should be no smaller than 10 inches in diameter. One tree may produce 20-40 gallons of sap in a season. On the average, it may take 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Collection devices can vary from milk jugs to 5-gallon buckets to plastic bags.

After making the rounds on his tractor, the maple sap is dumped from the stainless steel collection tank into a 1,000-gallon stainless steel storage tank. From there it runs through the reverse osmosis machine, which separates the waste water from the concentrated sap. The sap concentration varies from 3.5-4% when it comes out of the tree, Kenneth Jr. explained. Through reverse osmosis, it can reach 8-10%.

“Reverse osmosis cuts down the use of firewood,” Kenneth added.

The sap then runs into the flu pan, then into the finishing pan of the stainless steel evaporator, which can cook off nearly 60 gallons of sap per hour. The sap is released into the buckets to go into the canning tank to be brought to the proper density, is filtered three times and sent to the canning container. Then it’s bottled, and the filters are cleaned with use of the waste water from the reverse osmosis machine.

Family and friends often help throughout the process. Someday, Kenneth Jr. plans to continue the sapping operation on a smaller scale – making him the fourth generation Wasserzieher to tap the family’s maples. In his lifetime, 86-year-old Kenneth estimates he’s produced a few thousand gallons of maple syrup.

“That’s enough for a whole lot of pancakes!” he said.

The Wasserziehers, whose business is state inspected and certified, sell the syrup from their home. Call 218-678-2506 or email swasserzieher@gmail.com for more information.

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