PLYMOUTH — Spring means a number of things to the Faue family.
It’s a time of turning tapped sap from hundreds of maple trees on the family’s property in Plymouth into gallons of syrup.
It’s also a time for simultaneously watching the youngest generation play in the woods, which at times includes a misstep into the property’s shallow creek.
“That’s kind of what this is all about,” Jerry Faue said with a smile after his 2-year-old granddaughter, Adler, got wet and muddied after a slip into the creek. “It’s a time for the kids to play out in the woods with each other and also learn a few things about how to make maple syrup.
“I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to do this,” he added while splitting time keeping watch on the cooking syrup and active grandchildren. “It’s the way it’s always been for as long as I can remember — busy but fun.”
Tapping trees, and cooking and bottling the syrup, has been a tradition for the Faue family for generations, but it may be coming to an end, Faue said.
“This will likely be gone by the time my grandkids get to the point of making syrup here,” he said. “We’ll keep doing this as long as my mom (Pat Faue) lives here. Once she leaves the property, which she owns, it will likely be sold and there will be another housing development in here.”
The Faue property is on about 4 acres of mostly wooded land surrounded by housing developments, including one across Old Rockford Road, where the Faue family farm once stood and where the syrup-making process started more than 100 years ago.
Pat and George Faue were married about 68 years. He died about two years ago. Pat, who soon turns 91, lives in a house on the maple tree-laden property.
“I never imagined it would go this long,” said Pat. “As long as I am able to stay here, we will continue to do this. If I move out, they’ll sell the place and the trees will be gone.”
“I think it is just great that the family has continued with it,” she added. “It’s a wonderful thing. The family just loves it. My kids grew up with it, the grandkids did and now the great-grandkids are here.”
Pat recalled the eulogy that her grandson, Jeremy Faue, gave at her husband’s funeral.
“Jeremy talked about George and about the maple syrup tradition,” Pat said. “He said that it has never been about the making of the maple syrup, but about the bonding of the family. That’s why this is so important.”
Pat and George Faue had 10 children — five sons and five daughters. Pat has 28 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.
“I didn’t know anything about making maple syrup when I married George, but I learned a lot about it over the years,” she said with a smile. “There are so many recipes that I use the syrup for. This whole thing has been a big part of this family for generations in so many ways.”
Tree tapping usually starts in early March and continues for about four to six weeks, ending when the maple trees start to bud. On average, over the past five years, the Faues tap about 350 trees, Jerry Faue said.
The sap thickens via evaporation as it is cooked in large metal containers over a makeshift stove fueled by leftover pallets, tree branches and discarded wooden materials. Milk is added at the later stages of the cooking process.
“The milk helps filter out contaminants; the dirt from the trees,” Jerry Faue said as he used a sieve to scoop milky-colored substances out of the large cooking container. “The milk helps coagulate the real fine dirt and brings it all together so we can remove it. It’s amazing how much dirt goes through a tree.”
The syrup, once it reaches the right consistency, is then strained by pouring it through a woolen blanket into a large kettle. It then rests for a week or two until it is bottled and canned, Jerry Faue said.
“I wasn’t going to make any this year, but we had to make at least 10 gallons because we needed some to give to farmers who let us hunt on their land,” he said. “We give some to others and sell a little, but most of it we usually eat.”
Jesse Faue, 35, the oldest of Jerry and Jeanie Faue’s three children, grew up with the syrup-making process.
“I never got to the point of not wanting to be part of this,” Jesse said, adding that he and his family lived in Colorado about 15 years before returning to the Twin Cities area a couple of years ago.
“There is nothing better than being out here with my kids; spending the whole day out in the woods, playing in the creek and making maple syrup,” he said after having to change Adler’s attire after her creek escapade. “The best part, well, that’s having pancakes almost every Saturday with homemade syrup.”
Emma Faue, 7, Jesse’s oldest daughter, had a condensed version of how maple syrup is made: “So, there’s trees and buckets and you bring the buckets to the cooker, where Papa is, and then it goes into a pan and it makes syrup. And you need to add some milk too. You put it in jars and then you eat it with your pancakes.”