As part of our winter to-do list this year, we rounded up maple-syrup activities and talked with former Twins MVP Justin Morneau about his self-started maple-syrup operation. Let it be a source of inspiration—or just something fun to know.
About four years ago, former Minnesota Twins player Justin Morneau decided he needed to start eating better. Ironically, this led him to launch his own personal maple-syrup operation in the west metro.
Morneau had recently retired at 36 years old, after a career spanning multiple major-league teams. The one-time Twins MVP, who was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2021, had more time on his hands—plus a body that had registered plenty of shocks during his 14 years in the majors. “After I had all my injuries in my career, I was looking for a way to be healthier,” he says in a phone interview. “So I started eating better. Eventually, that morphed into [my family] buying some land with the goal of being able to grow most of what we eat in our backyard.”
On 16 and a half acres in Medina, the native Canadian made good on some advice—about crop rotation, about hydroponic lettuce—that he received from a friend who owns a farm-to-table restaurant in Minneapolis.
About a year in, Morneau decided to tap the trees on the property, too. “I don’t exactly remember how or why, or who started it,” he says of the idea. But a property owner’s grandson had told him the region’s people have a history of tapping trees.
Although time-consuming, the work is “not really that difficult once you figure out what you’re doing.”
Tapping happens around March, depending on weather. “It has to get above freezing during the day and below freezing during the night for the water—the sap—to go up and down the tree,” he says. From one tree, he might get a five-gallon bucket one day and a quarter of that the next.
Next, he boils the clear sap so the water evaporates and yields syrup. Morneau bought his evaporator pan online, and it sits on a propane double burner, enclosed in a wind-blocking plywood pen. “Most true maple-syrup people use wood to boil,” he says. “I don’t have enough time to tend to the fire like that.”
Boiling takes basically all day, “and then when you get to the last part, it can go from syrup to charred mess in a hurry,” he warns, noting he once burned a pan. There’s a lot at stake. It can take 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make about one gallon of syrup. That means a lot of steam. “Never do it in your house unless you want to peel the wallpaper off your walls.”
The best part is drinking it “straight-up” when the syrup is done, usually at 10 or 11 p.m. after starting in the morning. “It’s a little hard to fall asleep after that, but there’s nothing better than the warm syrup straight out of the pan.”
Although he doesn’t know exactly why he began doing this, Morneau eventually recalled a personal connection, having visited a Canadian maple-syrup farm in seventh grade. That trip had failed to pique his interest, he says—but in retirement, why not? “It’s kind of finding stuff to do and, you know, how do you show the kids what hard work looks like and produce something of your own? Because we have a pretty blessed life.”