Manitowoc sister taps into a new hobby: making maple syrup

By Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass | April 3, 2014

MANITOWOC — Sr. Louise Hembrecht enjoys learning to do something new each year. This year, that happens to be producing maple syrup.

Sr. Louise Hembrecht, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, pours sap from maple trees into one of two large pots positioned over a fire on a patio behind Chiara Convent, located behind Silver Lake College and near the motherhouse. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)
Sr. Louise Hembrecht, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc, pours sap from maple trees into one of two large pots positioned over a fire on a patio behind Chiara Convent, located behind Silver Lake College and near the motherhouse. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done this,” she said, noting the idea came on a whim while walking past some maple trees last fall. “I figured that if other people can do this, I can catch on and do it too.”

Sr. Louise has devoted dozens of hours since mid-March harvesting sap from maple trees on the grounds of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse and nearby Chiara Convent and Silver Lake College. She began planning last fall, when she could recognize which trees were maple trees based on their leaves. She marked about 20 of those trees with red ribbons so they’d be identifiable.

The brother-in-law of Sr. Kay Klackner supplied Sr. Louise with more than 20 buckets into which the sap drips. Sr. Louise also purchased several bags to harvest additional sap.

“You can start getting the sap when the temperature gets into the upper 30s or low 40s in the daytime and freezes at night,” said Sr. Louise, who on this day began at 2:45 a.m. working on boiling the sap on a homemade station behind Chiara Convent. She planned to continue until about 4:30 p.m.

Sr. Louise created the outdoor boiling station from metal half barrels and supporting rods that were stored in a barn near the motherhouse.

Sr. Louise Hembrecht holds a jar of maple syrup she made. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)
Sr. Louise Hembrecht holds a jar of maple syrup she made. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

“It’s kind of a crude setup, but it works,” Sr. Louise said with a grin.

After harvesting the sap from maple trees, Sr. Louise transports it to the boiling station. She runs the liquid through a coffee filter into a large bucket, which then gets dumped into one of the two boiling pots. From there, it gets transferred into the other pot to help maintain the second pot’s hot temperature.

After that, the liquid gets taken inside Chiara Convent, where Sr. Louise lives along with several other sisters who work at the adjacent Silver Lake College.

Once it’s brought inside the convent, the liquid gets filtered again before being boiled, and that process repeats itself before the maple syrup is ready to be put in a jar and stored in a lower level of the building.

Sr. Louise said it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. On this day, she noted she has made about four pints so far. By the time she’s finished in mid to late April, she hopes to have about four gallons, which she’ll share with fellow sisters at the motherhouse, Chiara Convent, St. Francis Convent and other nearby locations.

Sr. Louise isn’t necessarily a big fan of maple syrup herself — she prefers just putting butter on her pancakes — but she enjoys “getting it in the jars and having people like it, since a lot of people do like maple syrup.”

The hardest part of making maple syrup, she said, is finding the time. Even though her 12-year tenure as community director for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity ended last summer (there’s a limit of two consecutive six-year terms), Sr. Louise has stayed very busy.

She said she’s not aware of any sisters having made maple syrup at or near the motherhouse in previous years. But it’s something she plans on continuing next year.

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