By Harley Buchholz
The sap ran sweet and plentiful during the short, late winter-early spring maple tree tapping season at Drewry Farms near Plymouth.
In the syrup room, as water was removed from the sap, a maple scent spread across the Onion River valley around a rural settlement known as Winooski.
Since it takes 40 gallons of maple tree sap to make a gallon of syrup and the Drewrys are expecting to make more than 2,000 gallons of syrup this year, well, do the math. That's a lot of cooking.
Long, syrupy history
The Drewry family has been making maple syrup since settling on their central Sheboygan County farm in 1847. Coming from Vermont, "they probably brought their maple syrup making knowledge with them," writes Ruth Drewry, matriarch of the family, in an informational sheet. She and her husband, Dave, modernized the gathering of maple syrup and now their children and grandchildren have taken the next steps. The latest technology has sap collected in suspended plastic tubing which gravity feeds into larger vacuum lines for pumping first into reverse osmosis machines and then into evaporators designed to speed water removal. "The faster the water is evaporated the lighter the color and more delicate the flavor and the higher the grade of syrup," Ruth writes. Dave's and Ruth's daughter and son-in-law, Mark and Barbara Drewry-Zimmerman, oversee the day-to-day operations on the 120 acres of maple trees and 4,000 "taps" - the sap-collecting spouts on the trees. Some older trees have four taps each. One old tree has five. Barbara proudly displays old black and white photos, made from early glass negatives that show syrup-making around the turn of the 20th century. Some maple trees in their two woodlots date to the same time even though a straight-line windstorm in the 1990s took down some 200 trees. "It's amazing how this woods bounced back," Barbara says.
The Farms' separate 100- and 20-acre sugar bushes are self-propagating. "God does a good job of that," Barbara says. "We help out (with some transplanting)." The family also works with a local forester and is in the Wisconsin Managed Forest Program.
Starting in late February, three crews of two persons each drill, insert taps and connect them to the feeder lines 7 to 8 hours a day to begin the season, Barbara explains. Sap is collected until the trees begin to bud and the flow stops. So the collection season is a short, sometimes frantic one. Fortunately, there's a lot of help. Drewry Farms is a true family operation, involving Barbara and Mark; their daughter, Jesse; Barbara's brothers, Dave and Russ, and sister, Ann Weeden and her husband, Jon, and Ann's daughter, Kelly Cowhig and her husband, Neil. Jesse and Kelly developed the Farms' website at drewryfarmsmaple.com. Some seasonal help also is hired, but "with automation we don't need as many to handle" the jobs, Barbara notes.