By JULIE MINDA
Last fall, as Sr. Louise Hembrecht, OSF, was walking the grounds of the motherhouse and convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, Wis., she took note of the many maple trees around her and wondered: What would it take to tap those trees and harvest the sap to make syrup?
A do-it-yourselfer by constitution, she took to the Internet and read books on syrup making. Having recently completed her 12-year tenure as community director for the congregation, Sr. Hembrecht had some free time to start a new hobby even as she began her current assignment as director of sponsorship, planning and church relationships at Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Sponsored Ministries and the representative for religious in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis.
She tied red ribbons around maple trees on the property of the motherhouse, convent and the nearby Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, which is sponsored by the sisters' Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Sponsored Ministries. That organization also sponsors three regional health networks and an eldercare system.
Sr. Louise Hembrecht, OSF, pours maple sap into a cauldron as she cooks up a batch of syrup. She built the stove on a patio behind Chiara Convent in Manitowoc, Wis.
According to information in The Compass, the newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, to set up her syrup-making operation, Sr. Hembrecht used basic equipment she found stored in a barn at the motherhouse, plus some from another sister's relative. She built an outdoor "stove" with cinder blocks, grates and barrels.
On March 19, she and a fellow sister began drilling 1.5 inch holes in the 20 or so trees she had marked, then they hammered in collection spouts called spiles and hung catchment buckets. Four days later, the first sap began to flow from some of the trees.
As the buckets filled, Sr. Hembrecht poured the clear, tasteless sap through bug- and twig-catching coffee filters and into the cauldrons. Sap consists mostly of water, which evaporates in the slow boiling process to condense the sugars and transform the sap into syrup — no additional ingredients are needed, Sr. Hembrecht explained.
When the pot contents boiled down, Sr. Hembrecht added fresh sap. It takes about 20 hours to cook each batch. Sr. Hembrecht stirred the cauldrons and tended the fire, monitoring each batch more closely during the last several hours of cooking when scalding risk is high.
From March 19 through April 21, when the last sap flowed, Sr. Hembrecht harvested about 250 gallons of sap to create about 5.5 gallons of syrup. She gave jars of syrup to other sisters and to work colleagues.
Sr. Hembrecht said syrup making deepened her Franciscan appreciation of God's generosity through nature. The maple season has ended — sap flows when the temperature hits freezing at night and is in the high 30s and low 40s during the day.
But, Sr. Hembrecht plans to resume her tree-tapping ways next year.
Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association
of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby
or call (314) 253-3477.