WWW.SHAKER.LIFE | FALL 2018 63
The Maple Syrup
Maven of Malvern
By Beth Friedman-Romell
“Welcome to the Sugar Bush!”
Bill Rosner ambles up to greet me in
his Malvern area front yard on a sunny
August afternoon. The tall and trim
retired attorney begins our lesson in
homemade maple syrup production with
a short quiz.
“Guess how many sugar maple trees
there are on this lot.”
I glance around, take a stab. “I dunno
– 20? 25?”
“None!” he declares with glee,
pointing at a stately tree in the front
yard. “That's the only maple on the lot,
but it isn't a sugar maple. You need a true
maple to get sap for syrup.”
Noticing my confusion, Bill explains
that his syrup hobby is made possible
courtesy of his neighbors, Drs. Mike and
Nancy Roizen, who allow Bill to tap the
stately double row of trees which form
a border between the two properties, in
exchange for some complementary syrup.
“We're like sharecroppers,” he jokes.
Making maple syrup at home seems
an unusual pastime for a Shaker native
who has worked all over the world for
the U.S. Department of State. When the
Rosner family first returned to Northeast
Ohio, they settled on wooded land in
Chardon. Bill was impressed with Amish
maple syrup production, and decided to
try his hand at it, with his two children
drafted as reluctant schleppers.
Bill says his biggest mistake the
first year was boiling down the sap indoors, in an unvented kitchen. After 50 gallons
of steam took off all the wallpaper, his wife, Kim, wryly observed, “You can buy the
damn stuff for ten bucks in the grocery store, you know.”
After that experience, Bill purchased huge galvanized steel tubs and ordered stacks
of seasoned wood to make an outdoor bonfire for the first stage of sap reduction.
When the family moved to Shaker, Bill missed his hobby. After a few years, he
enlisted the Roizens' enthusiastic cooperation.
Bill talks me through the “horribly labor-intensive” process he follows each spring:
“First of all, you have to make sure the trees are tagged with paint so you can
tell which ones are maples in the early spring, before anything is leafed out.” Bill says
that he follows the Amish tradition of tapping on or around Presidents' Day in late
February. Fluctuating temperatures, featuring relatively warm days and freezing
nights, provide the best conditions for the sap to rise. Nancy Roizen has told Bill, “It
makes it feel like springtime around here” when the tapping starts.
To tap a tree, Bill first drills a hole with a hand brace to a depth of around two
inches. The metal tap, or spile, is pounded into the tree far enough to hold the weight
of the metal bucket into which the sap drips. A lid is fixed on the bucket to keep out
bugs and squirrels. Once the sap starts to flow, it must be boiled down within three
days, or it will sour.
Bill's outdoor bonfire boils continuously in the back yard on dry weekends. He
hauls 100-pound cement blocks across his yard to support the grate, kettle, and sap.
Next, the reduced sap is finished in giant stockpots indoors, where it boils down to
two percent of its original volume. The piping hot syrup is then strained and poured
into individual bottles and sealed with self-sealing caps, ready for sharing with
friends and family.
Bill clearly adores this challenging process. “It's definitely a labor of love,” Bill
muses. "It's very hard manual labor, but it's something I can do."
When done properly, tapping maple trees does them no harm. Each tree will yield
up to about two quarts of syrup, depending on weather conditions; the ratio of sap to
syrup is around 50:1.
At this stage of his life, Bill would like to pass on the tradition to a new generation
of tappers. He and Kim will be moving, and Bill says he would be thrilled to give
away his large collection of tapping supplies to someone interested in making syrup.
Pancakes with homemade syrup, anyone? SL