Door County Syrup: It Depends
The front doors to Jorns Sugarbush off CTH T near Egg Harbor are still quiet as they wait for the snow to recede. Signs of spring are trying to peek through the winter blanket that still covers the Door which started me a thinkin’ that the weather might be about right for collecting sap to make homemade maple syrup. I went to visit the local expert, Roland Jorns of Jorns Sugarbush of course. Be patient during your visit... maple syrup is an 'on demand' business. Please observe these hours :) Roland Jorns (or Rollie as he’s known) has been making maple syrup in Door County from several stands of maples for 75 years, but more recently, the single stand closest to home. I half expected that he would be out in the woods, but instead, found him and Donna (wife) outside as he was about to go wash taps. “It looks like it’s about time to make syrup,” I said. He replied that they’re about two weeks behind already. He explained that the hard winter is pushing back the season. It’s too hard to get to the trees with the deep snow in the woods, waist high yet in a lot of places that escape the sun. It’s still too early to tap. “How do you know when it’s time?” I asked. “It depends,” Donna said. She went on to explain that a good rule of thumb is to look out across the field or at the trees along the fence row. When you can start to see the grass appear on the mounds or snow recede from the base of the stumps, it’s about time. And then, it depends. It depends on the weather as you need cold nights that blossom into warm days and back to cold nights. “Except you want to avoid starting too soon because you don’t want to fight with the ice,” she added. If you start too soon, the buckets that collect the sap will freeze and one struggles to empty ice chunks out of the pails, plus the taps freeze up. When the sap does start to run, the buckets fill too quickly or overrun because the frozen ice displaces the necessary room needed between empties. “You don’t want to let the buckets sit out there too long either,” Rollie warned. “Some people will leave them out there for a week and the sap can spoil, just like milk can spoil.” His expertise is obvious as he told me about the difference between good syrup and lazy man’s syrup. “If it’s light it’s done right,” he stated as if a family mantra. In recent years, darker syrups have gained popularity. Rollie is not shy with his opinion on dark syrup. It can be a way to cover flaws, contamination, bacteria or a neglected boil during the process. Jorn’s are very careful about using clean equipment, emptying sap frequently (which is extremely labor intensive), and bottling and storage. After the sap is collected and boiled down to the proper consistency and sugar content, it’s then bottled at 212 degrees which is hot enough to prevent any contamination and accounts for the temperature drop when entering the cool glass containers. He does add reluctantly that a dark syrup can be tasty, but it’s tricky, and most are often not processed correctly. You will want to purchase Door County maple syrup in one of the larger size containers.... trust me. “So…. Then…. how do you know when it’s done?” I asked. “Well, that depends,” said Donna. When the trees start to bud, it’s too late. As the leaf buds swell, the sap composition changes and the taste of the syrup will change as well. The perfect sap is the first part of the run. After this conversation, I’m all about the Light-Done-Right process because the final product is fantastic. The golden amber color compliments the very specific taste with an ever so mild nutty sweetness. The most noticeable difference is the light texture and consistency, which unlike store bought syrups, pours evenly, closer to water than molasses. You can find this Door County syrup right at the sugar bush or at several other markets. An early visit is recommended and you might even get to watch as they cook down sap. The maple syrup season in Door County is projected to be a short one this year, but it really just depends.