Kopp's Crops is a family-run business specializing in maple syrup, honey and fresh vegetables. We are located 45 miles north of Minneapolis in Bradford Township on our 65 acre farm.

*Now Selling at the Cambridge-Isanti Farmers Market!*

Local Orders: For pickup in Isanti, Cambridge, Brooklyn Park or Arden Hills, please email koppscrops@gmail.com or call 763-772-7057 to place your order and arrange payment & pickup. Available products are listed in the shopping cart below.

Outside the Twin Cities: Please use the online shopping cart below. USPS shipping charges will be calculated at checkout.

For questions, please email us at koppscrops@gmail.com


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Little Bit of Bragging...

This past weekend, the Kopp family took in the joys of the Isanti County Fair.  First stop:  the open class displays, where county residents show off the products of their crafting, baking, artistry and gardening.  Friends of ours took first place on some photography and vegetable categories - congratulations to Bridget & Dave!  

Then with great anticipation, we headed over to the canned goods, and were honored to see two blue ribbons dangling from our entries!  Our mushrooms beat out a beef jerky competitor in the "Dried Miscellaneous" category, and our best Grade A light amber reigned victorious in Maple Syrup.  Next year we'll aspire to the purple Grand Champion ribbon.  Thank you, Isanti County Fair Board!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

99 Bottles of Syrup on the Wall… And 99 Stockpots to Wash

May 1 and it’s snowing again in Minnesota.  We only wish we were joking.  About the only thing this weather is good for is finishing out the Maple Syrup Blogging Season.  So let the bottling summary begin!

There are few tasks here at Kopp’s Crops that dirty more dishes than filtering and bottling maple syrup, which is why we save up a few days’ worth of boiling output before we bottle.  That means we’ve got three or four pots dirtied up before we even start – the pots in which the syrup was finished & stored.  The full syrup pots go back on the stove to heat, partly as an additional pasteurization step, partly just to make the syrup less viscous and runnier so it flows through the filters more quickly.  Our filters are housed in a straining pot that started its life as a regular old stockpot, but now has holes drilled in the bottom so the filtered syrup can drip through the holes into yet another clean pot (or three) waiting below.

We use the double filter method for our syrup, with a disposable pre-filter inside our reusable cone filter, which is made of Orlon.  Orlon filters are the gold standard for syrup straining, because they filter out even the smallest bits of concentrated minerals, called sugar sand (harmless, but annoyingly gritty on the tongue).  But the tight weave of the felt-like fabric clogs up easily, so the pre-filter removes larger debris before it has a chance to gum up the Orlon and slow down the filtering operation to “molasses in January” speed.  When the pre-filter collects too much gunk, like larger granules of sugar sand and small bits of leaves and bark, we just swap in a new filter to speed things along.  At this point in the season, patience is not our strong suit.   

Finally filtered into a second round of clean stockpots, the syrup is once again heated to 200 degrees to ensure that the syrup will be hot enough to make our tamper-proof plastic caps seal properly.  Then we pour the steaming hot syrup carefully….carefully… carefully into an insulated coffee pot with a spigot for easy bottle filling.  Quite the upgrade from last year’s “ladle & funnel & try to keep the spilling to a minimum” method!  Each bottle is filled, wiped and capped, then set aside to cool before labeling.  We’ve been blessed with a bumper crop of syrup this year (99 bottles just in the first bottling batch!, so we’re swimming in beautiful bottles of sweet syrup.  The sidebar on the right shows the sizes and grades we have for sale.  When you’re ready to order, just give a yell – we’ll be in the kitchen washing out the mountain of stockpots! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Finer Points of Finishing: Part 2

Once the clear sap has boiled the day away and whittled away into an inch of golden goodness in the bottom of the boiling pan, it’s time to drain it into one of our big canning pots.  Thankfully there’s a handy-dandy spigot in the corner to make the job easier.  After our most recent 12-14 hour boils, we’ve drained out about four gallons of near-syrup at this stage.  Then it’s off to the turkey fryer to boil off the last gallon of water.  The ring of the fryer burner is a perfect fit for our canning pots, and the propane burner is much easier to control.  Also perfect for roasting hot dogs, if a person needs a little protein to balance out the sugar.  Plus, it keeps us from making a mess of the kitchen stove.  On the burner, the syrup gently boils for quite a while with little attention, but when it gets close to finished, watch out!  That baby can boil over in a heartbeat.  Sadly, we know this from experience.

The syrup is officially finished when it reaches the magical 66% sugar content, or boils at seven degrees above the boiling temperature for water.  In most cases that would be the expected 219 degrees, unless the barometric pressure is all wonky.  For those of you who have been following the April weather in Minnesota this year, we think you’d agree there may have been some barometric wonkiness.  So rather than rely on a thermometer, we let our hydrometer tell us when it’s quittin’ time.  The hydrometer measures the density of the syrup, to give us a more precise measure of the sugar content.  We dip our handled hydrometer cup into the hot syrup and let the hydrometer float gently inside.  When the red line is visible above the syrup line in the cup, we call it a day.  And thank our lucky stars we avoided another sticky syrup spillover.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Finer Points of Finishing, Part 1

So after five or so hours of boiling, our 40 gallons of sap has magically turned into a gallon of syrup, right?  Oh, if only.  To “finish” the syrup to the proper 66% sugar content in the pan would be to risk overshooting the evaporation and scorching the syrup.  Thus rendering the syrup inedible, and leaving the evaporator operator sobbing in the corner of the sugar shack in the fetal position.  Nobody wants to see that.  So the trickiest part of the entire syrup operation might be deciding when to pull the pan off the wood stove and transfer the near-syrup to a large pot to be finished over a more controlled heat source.  Pull the pan off too early, and we waste lots of time boiling off water we could have boiled in the more efficient flat pan.  Pull it off too late and, yup, we’ll be playing “Taps” for our fallen batch of syrup.
Maple Sap Streaming into the Boiling Pan

Since we’ve engaged in a couple of 12+ hour, 180 gallon boiling marathons this season, we’ve faced an even more difficult decision:  when to quit feeding the fire at the end of the night?  Once the last of the sap has left the barrel and streamed into the pan, there’s still quite a bit of boiling to do.  So rather than staying up another two hours to feed the fire and pull off the pan to cool, we stop stoking the fire and let the residual heat of the stove and the sap do a little more evaporating before morning, when we'll fire up the finishing operation.  As you might imagine, estimating how much evaporating happens while we’re sleeping is like estimating how long our kids' good mood will last after the maple syrup sugar rush wears off.  In other words, nearly impossible.  We nearly lost our first batch this way – we woke up to nearly-finished syrup in our pan, just a smidgen away from scorched syrup.  Thankfully, we were still a few points away from the magic 66% sugar content for finished syrup, so we didn’t lose any of our sweet amber goodness.  Sweet dreams, indeed! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Boil, Baby, Boil!

First of all, we want to be clear.  Even though this incredibly long stretch of cold weather has extended our season and will give us our biggest syrup haul ever, we still want spring to arrive NOW just as much as anyone else in Minnesota!  We’re willing to call it quits on sap collection.  We’re ready for warmer weather.  Any day now, thanks!

Sap Delivery & Preheating Mechanism
But in the meantime, when the world gives us sap, we make syrup!  No matter how cold it gets inside, it’s toasty warm inside the Sugar Shack.  To keep the sap at a rolling boil, we add wood to the stove every 10-12 minutes.  We use a mix of oak and maple.  Nope, not for a smoky flavor, but because our oak is drier and contains more BTUs so it burns hotter, while the maple is wetter and burns longer.  This keeps the fire burning at 750 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured by the thermometer mounted on our smokestack.  The thermometer has an ominous name; “burn indicator” is stamped on the bottom of it.   Boil, baby boil… syrup inferno!  No, no infernos, please – that’s why we have a panel of cement board mounted between the stove and the back wall, and a fire extinguisher mounted prominently near the door of our Sugar Shack.  Safety first, syrup second! 

To make sure the syrup keeps boiling steadily as we add more sap to the pan, we use copper tubing to carry the sap from our 55 gallon drums into the pan.  The tubing has a valve like our house’s plumbing, where we can adjust the speed of the sap flow.  And the copper wraps around the smokestack twice, so that the sap is already preheated a bit by the time it goes streaming into the pan.  During the height of the boil, we try to adjust the flow to keep about 3 inches of boiling liquid in the pan for optimal evaporation.  With this setup, we can boil the excess water off 50 gallons of sap in about 6 hours.  Or about fifty rounds of adding wood to the fire.  Not that we're counting.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Quicker Collection

See that beautiful photo there?  That nearly full bucket of fresh, begging-to-be-boiled sap?  Yes, that’s what we’ve been waiting for.  The sap run is at its peak, and we aim to collect every available drop. A couple of years ago, the bottleneck of our syrup operation was the boiling.  We solved (or partially solved) that issue by upgrading our stove.   

So now our bottleneck is sap collection.  The 55 gallon plastic drum bungee corded onto a wagon (aka the “collection cart”), towed by our four wheeler just isn’t giving us the efficiency we’re looking for.  There’s still the stopping & dismounting from the four wheeler at every tree.  The unhooking of the bucket, the dumping of the sap into a larger 5 gallon bucket, the rehanging of the bucket, the replacing of the lid that has inevitably fallen into the snow at some point in the process.  The trudging through the snow to the next tree, the dumping of 2-3 trees’ worth of sap into the drum, the remounting of the four-wheeler.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat for one hundred trees.

But we’ve seen the future, and the future is plastic.  Plastic tubing, to be exact.  With some assistance from good old fashioned gravity.  Most of our land is pretty flat, but we do have a nice slope on the southeast side that we’re using as a trial run for sap-collecting tubing.  Before the season started, we attached a length of one-inch diameter plastic tubing to a series of mature maples.  At the top of the slope, the tubing is attached higher on the tree, and by the bottom of the slope it’s only a couple feet off the ground.  A carpenter’s level assured us that we had a consistent downward slope of tubing with no level spots for sap to pool.  Then once it was time to tap the trees, instead of hanging a bucket from a metal spline on each tree along the slope, we used plastic taps.  The plastic taps have small tubes attached to them that splice into the main tubing, giving the sap a clear path out of the tree, down toward lower ground.  At the bottom of this sap water slide?  One of those beautiful blue 55 gallon drums, already partially full of clear, pure maple sap.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Eggs

We're "dyeing" to show you how we spent the afternoon yesterday!  One egg-dye kit, six juice glasses, two preschoolers, and thirteen hard-boiled eggs.  We didn't start with this unlucky number; we started with sixteen.  Three were so excited to be dyed that they could burst (and did) in the pan.  And some of our eggs had a head start on the dyeing.  Six of our laying hens lay brown eggs and two lay white eggs, so of today's eggs, eight were white, two were brown, and four were green.  Yes, green!  Dr. Seuss wasn't quite as far-out there as you thought (although we'd still recommend staying away from green ham).  We don't have green-egg-layers of our own, but one of our friends thought the girls would enjoy having some green eggs and sent a few over.  The multi-colored baker's dozen made for some interesting egg-dye outcomes that we thought we'd share with you. Before you judge the craftsmanship of the dye job, though, please remember - the primary artists were ages two and a half and four!
Our Easter eggs, prior to dyeing: seven white, four green and two brown.
The white eggs turned out about how you'd expect - pretty pastels.  

The brown eggs did okay in the darker color dye.  Starburst breakage pattern courtesy of an overexcited two and a half year old. 

The green eggs were a bit of a mixed bag.  Yellow dye on a green egg does not lead to an attractive outcome(back).  The  egg on the right was dyed with masking tape around the middle - the middle stripe is the original egg color.

Happy Easter from the hens (and humans) of Kopp's Crops!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nectar of the Gods

The trees are dripping!  The trees are dripping!  The sap is finally flowing and we couldn’t be sappier… er, happier!  We’ve tapped one hundred and thirty trees this year, so 2013 tops our tapping tally to date.  Sadly, many of the buckets are still dry and sap-free, especially the ones deeper in the woods where the temperatures still struggle to get above freezing.  But the ones that have sap in them are a beautiful sight.  It may look like plain old water, and even taste like it, but it is the nectar of the gods.  Or at least the nectar of the god of pancakes, IHOPysus. 

The sap's sugar content is its most important quality.  Red maples, which make up the majority of our tapped trees, typically have a sugar content of 2.0-2.5%, while sugar maples have a slightly higher 2.5-3.0% sugar content.  This makes the standard sap-to-syrup ratio about 43:1.  Yes, over 40 gallons of sap just to walk out of the boiling shack with a single gallon of syrup!  Sugar content in the harvested sap declines until it’s boiled, so we boil as often as possible to maximize our syrup.  But we also try not to boil until we’ve collected over 40 gallons of sap.  Our boiling pan is two feet by four feet, so it takes almost two gallons of boiling syrup just to keep the pan covered and not scorching. 

After our first sap collection yesterday we used a hydrometer to test the sugar content of our haul.  One tree pumped out a whopping 4% sugar - sweet!  But by the time we collected from all the trees, the average sugar content was 2.3%.  Well within normal range, and with fifty gallons of sap in our barrel, well worth firing up the wood stove for our first boil of the season.  The fruit of our labors?  One gorgeous gallon of golden goodness.  All hail IHOPysus!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cute Chicks

Is there anything cuter than a baby chick?  How about a whole flock of baby chicks?  Just in time for Easter, we've got a few new residents at Kopp's Crops.  And by few, we mean about 125 of them!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Waiting for Spring to Spring Forth

Waiting, waiting, waiting… we’re still waiting for sap.  We tapped all our trees on Wednesday, when it looked like the temperatures would creep above freezing.  Not so much.  All we’ve got to show for our first few days are a couple of buckets with a half-inch of frozen sap in the bottom.  It’s always a balancing act – if we tap too early (as we apparently did this year), we risk having the holes in the trees heal up before all the available sap is collected – the trees actually start healing the minute they’re tapped.  But if we tap too late and miss the beginning of the sap run, we’ll miss out on the delicately-flavored light amber maple syrup that those first days will bring.

Our other sugar sources, the honey bees, are not happy about the lingering freezing temperatures, either.  We’re not really worried about them freezing in their hives, since we wrapped all the boxes with black tar paper to keep the wind out and the heat in.  And even on a sub-zero day, a cluster of bees and their body heat can reach 80 degrees.  But the bees still leave the hive for their periodic “cleansing flights,” also known as “taking a little bee dump outside so they don’t turn the hive into giant latrine.”  Some of those bees won’t survive out in the cold long enough to make it back to the hive. 

The bees that don’t freeze their little bee butts off outside the hive are probably getting a tad hungry by now.  To keep our honey-creators alive through the winter, we left 60-70 pounds of honey in each hive to provide enough sustenance until spring.  But with winter continuing to stretch out, we’ve had to supplement their winter stash with some sugar water.  When they suck the sugar water out of the feeder, they’re tricked into thinking the spring nectar is flowing.  Oh, if only we could trick ourselves into thinking spring is so close!    

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Easing Into the Season

When days are warm but nights still freeze
The sap starts flowing in the trees…

For the past few weeks, when 10:14pm rolls around, you’ll find us on the couch, eyeballs glued to the TV, fingers crossed, waiting for just the right weather report.  The maple sap run starts when the daytime highs climb a few degrees above freezing for a few days in a row– the sap rises from the roots toward the warm, sunny branches.  But when the air temperature drops back below freezing at night, it flows back down to hide out in the warmth of the ground.  Up and down, up and down.  Except for that bit that flows by our taps and into our buckets.

Since we haven’t seen that sought-after five-day forecast yet, we’ve just been easing into the season so far.  First, we cleared out the Sugar Shack and brought the equipment out of hibernation.  Buckets, taps, storage drums, and the big kahuna: the boiling pan. Everything needed to be completely sanitized, to ensure that all the sugar-eating bacteria were eliminated.  The taps were small enough that we could boil them to get them squeaky clean.  Everything else got a good scrubbing with bleach and elbow grease.  The wood boiling stove just needed a good once-over to get rid of the spiders and other creepy crawlies that made their winter home there.  Then we stacked a full cord of dried, split wood neatly beside the Sugar Shack.  We tapped the tree closest to the house as a tester tree.  And then, we waited.  And watched the weather report.  And waited some more.
Saturday, we just couldn’t stand the waiting any more.  With daytime temperatures projected to be right about freezing this week, we decided to tap the first 25 trees.  We chose a stand of trees on the southeast slope where it’s a little sunnier, and maybe a little warmer.  And now we wait again, for the first flow of the sweet sap of 2013…

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Feeling Peckish

We humans of Kopp’s Crops have a serious case of Cabin Fever with a side of Spring Fever.  But we think the chickens are feeling it even more acutely.  After a winter of being cooped up (pun intended) inside, they’re feeling a little peckish.  As in, they’re pecking at each other.  A couple of the hens who fall to the bottom of the proverbial pecking order (yes, a phrase that did indeed originate in the chicken universe) are sporting some feather-free bald spots above their tails.  Hopefully as the weather warms up and they get outside more to stretch their wings, their appetites for each others’ tailfeathers will wane.  If not, some chicken coats may be in order.  Seriously.  You can actually buy peck-proof coats for chickens!    

The pecking really took off a couple of weeks ago, when the weather dropped into the sub-zero, egg-freezing zone.  Our hens stayed comfortable with their thick winter feathers and the collective chicken body heat, but the eggs they laid in the colder corners of the coop didn’t fare so well.  Of the five or six eggs laid each day by our eight hens, we were lucky to retrieve one before they froze and split their shells.  Then all the sudden, those frozen eggs started sporting mysterious, jagged holes.  The hens were pecking at their own eggs, as if they were in some twisted poultry version of the Donner party. 

Fearing the ongoing loss of future omelets, we took a two-pronged approach to exterminate the egg-pecking.  First, we dug out the plastic eggs from the girls’ Easter baskets to use as decoys.  Go ahead, ladies, let’s see you try to peck through that tough plastic!  Then we filled all the pre-pecked real eggs with yellow mustard, which chickens apparently detest.  Yes, dear hens, it may just look like egg yolk, but trust us – it’s kryptonite to you!  It took about five days, but they finally tired of the pecking prevention measures and started leaving the eggs intact, just in time for the winter warm-up that allowed us to once again enjoy fresh (unfrozen) eggs!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Science of Sausage-Making

It has been said for decades “you don’t really want to know how the sausage is made.”  Well, here’s your opportunity to find out how our venison sausage is made, with nary a stomach-churning description to be found.  Unless you’re vegetarian, of course.  But if you are, we probably lost you at the title of the post, didn’t we?  For those still with us, read on for a peek behind the curtain (or into the grinder).
The secret to venison sausage is… pork.  Yes, pork.  True, venison alone would make a nice low-fat sausage, but it would also be a dry, tasteless sausage.  Sausages need fat for flavor and juiciness, but what little fat venison has just tastes nasty.  Really gross.  So before we grind our venison for the sausage, we trim all the fat off.  Enter the pork.  Most venison sausage recipes call for a mix of venison, pork fat, and pork lean, with the pork fat & lean at a 1:1 ratio.  We trade off a little of the flavor and juiciness for a lower-fat sausage, so we buy pork butt roasts that are probably closer to 75% lean.  We grind the meats separately, then plop them into a giant plastic tub, 25 pounds of meat at time.  Next, the spices, which get mixed with water into a spicy slurry, so that they mix more evenly with the meat.
For our favorite wild rice bratwurst, we soften up 16 oz. of wild rice by pouring boiling water over it, let it cool, pour off the water, and repeat the process two more times.  After the meat, spices, and wild rice are well-mixed by hand, we load the mixture into a sausage stuffer, where we pump it into natural casings made from beef intestines.  (Ok, we lied.  That may have grossed some of you out…sorry!  We promise, that’s the last time.)  We twist the casings every six inches to form the individual sausages, creating a long, somewhat festive meat garland to adorn our freezer for the coming months (in tidy vacuum-sealed packages of four).
                We use manufactured collagen casings for our smoked snack sticks (think Slim Jims, only larger in diameter, with a fraction of the ingredients, and way, way, way tastier), for which we use 60% venison, 40% pork, and a different spice blend.  Since these sausages are eaten cold or room temperature, we have to add cure (sodium nitrite) to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, particularly the ones that cause botulism.  Cure is also what gives sausages their trademark pink/red color and adds some distinctive flavor.  After stuffing the casings, we load them into our refrigerator smoker.  Yes, you read that right.  Our smoker is made out of 1940’s refrigerator.  More on that in an upcoming post.  We smoke the sausages at 125 degrees for five hours, then at 170 until they’re fully cooked with an internal temperature of 156 degrees, then cool and freeze them. 
                This year we tried making hotdogs for the first time!  We made them the same way we made the snack sticks (but with larger-diameter casings and yet another spice blend), but smoked them for only an hour and a half at 125 degrees before raising the temperature.  After they reached the requisite 156 degrees, we gave them the full Minnesota treatment – we pulled them from their sauna and threw them into a refreshing ice bath to cool them down quickly and preserve some of the internal moisture.  Since the collagen casings are kind of chewy compared to the texture of the wieners, we peeled them off before freezing them.  The final tally:  100 wild rice bratwurst, 25lbs of chipotle snack sticks, 13 pounds of hot dogs, and a fully-stocked freezer full of savory sausage to go with our cellar full of sauerkraut!