FOOD: Simple GiftsWoodsman and conservationist Dave Rogotzke produces sweet liquid gold in the maple forests of Duluth with a back-to-nature approach
By: Arlene Coco-Buscombe, Living North Magazine
On a cool, bright and sunny day, Dave Rogotzke is busy tending his maples. Getting ready for action, he’s checking his pumps, gauges and lines to his extractor to make sure they are operating properly.
The smoke coming out of the stacks high above his white pine board “sugar shack” means the oil fired evaporator is reducing a sea of sap down to warm amber syrup. A black-and-caramel-colored sociable German Shepard named Jackson follows him along with side stops for a quick roll on the ground. In Minnesota, maple syrup season runs during March and April, when the sap taste is optimal. Sap flows the fastest when the temperatures rise above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. The reward, maple syrup, however is best enjoyed on cool autumn mornings, drizzled over a steaming stack of cakes and washed down with hot coffee.
Rogotzke is a gentle soul who loves the land. A true outdoorsman he spends almost every day with the trees during the season. Rogotzke taps up to 5,000 trees in a season on 200 acres of natural forest. Forty acres are solid maple, while the rest is maple hard wood and evergreen mix.
“I’m the steward for this piece of earth right now” says Rogotzke, “I’m caring for the land for the next person that will be coming after me.” He devotes two weeks every fall to eliminating invasive species such as buckthorn, as well as thinning maples for future crops and reforestation.
“On a good day when the sap starts to run, the fastest trees can drip 60 drops a minute,” he says. The watery sap comes out of the tree into miles of plastic lines and then runs first to the extractor in a pump house, then to a large holding tank. When it’s ready to be made it goes into a reverse osmosis machine and is reduced by 70 percent. It finally ends up in an enormous engraved stainless steel evaporator. By the time it’s filtered and bottled it’s reduced in volume by 95 to 98 percent.
Rogotzke is also a commercial fisherman in Alaska during the summer months and he brings back Sockeye and King salmon for restaurants and retailers and sells direct to buyers. He got the idea of making maple syrup from his wife Ann who nine years ago had met a maple syrup producer in Ely and was impressed with how happy they were telling stories about carrying buckets and bags of sap through the woods.
“I was a stay at home dad looking for something to do with my kids when they were small in the months of March and April,” Rogotzke recalls. His sugarbush operation was born. He contacted the Canadian Maple Ministry and accepted an invitation to come up for a visit. He took a tour of several maple syrup manufacturers during his visit and took the best ideas from each producer, such as using the reverse osmosis system and an oil-powered evaporator to use in his own operation.
All the buildings on the property highlight Rogotzke’s conservationist nature. They are made from reclaimed and recycled lumber, and all aspects of the operation are green. “In the syruping process, people always ask me what I’m adding,” he says. “Nothing is ever added to the process, only water is taken away.”
The name of his company is Simple Gifts Maple Syrup and Salmon. The real gift is to the recipients who have the opportunity to taste something that’s fresh and first-rate. Rogotzke’s commitment to sustainable forestry, harvesting a natural crop and his attention to detail reap a product that is not only environmentally sound, but delicious!
Rogotzke's Simple Gifts Salmon Sauce
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp soy sauce
Combine ingredients into a sauce pan. Simmer over
medium heat. Apply over the top of cooked/grilled salmon. This sauce is excellent over many other types of seafood or meat as well. Enjoy!
Snow Taffy can be made with crushed ice
during the warmer months.
2 cups maple syrup
1 pan of snow or crushed ice
Pack snow or crushed ice into 13 x 9 size or larger pan. Keep frozen. Add maple syrup to sauce pan. Boil over medium heat until syrup reaches 240 - 250 degrees. Remove from heat. Immediately pour into tablespoon size circles on the snow or ice. Use popsicle stick to roll syrup into a ball, which will attach to the stick. Leave on snow or ice until cool, then eat.
Jeanne Tonkin’s “Heavenly Hots”
This pancake recipe was served at a slow food event held at Simple Gifts during maple syrup season. Serve with fresh berries, walnuts, local butter and fresh maple syrup for a sensational breakfast.
3/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoon canola oil
Mix flours, soda, powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix remaining wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend. Cook on a hot nonstick griddle or pan until pancakes start to bubble. Turn and cook until brown, about two more minutes.