March 13, 2013 - It turns out the maple syrup folks enjoy on their pancakes and waffles doesn't magically come from a talking glass bottle that resembles a matronly female.
Leonard Elementary third-grader Sarah Frost dunks a French toast stick into some maple syrup made by Keller Family Farms in Almont. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
It actually comes from places like Keller Family Farms/Keller's Maple Products (6209 Bordman Rd.) in Almont.
On Monday, Jeromy Keller, who represents the third generation to work on the 80-acre farm, visited Leonard Elementary School to explain to third-graders how maple syrup is made – and what a sweet lesson it was.
Keller's farm has 10 acres of maple trees containing 1,400 taps. All that sap flows through 5 miles worth of tubing and is gravity-fed into a 1,000-gallon holding tank at the bottom of the woods.
"It looks like a huge spiderweb," he said.
After the sap is collected, it's continuously boiled down until it reaches the specific gravity and temperature consistent with maple syrup. "You're just boiling and boiling and boiling," Keller said.
He noted that sap boils at 7 degrees above the temperature water boils, which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius.
It takes 50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
"Yesterday, I collected 400 gallons of sap. That's going to be 8 gallons of syrup," Keller said.
Sap is harvested in late winter/early spring. "Right now is the only time you can actually get sap," Kelly said. "You needfreezing nights and thawing days (for the sap to flow).
"Basically, when the frost is coming out of the roads and you've got all the potholes, that's when we're doing syrup. When it's just miserable and muddy outside, that's when we're going for syrup."
Weather plays a critical role in the sap harvesting process.
When it's windy, the sap will stop running whereas rainy days push the sap, creating a good flow, according to Keller.
Keller said the most syrup his family operation has ever produced in a season was 336 gallons, which represents 16,800 gallons of sap. The least amount was 150 gallons derived from 7,500 gallons of sap.
"It fluctuates so much," he said.
After Keller's presentation, the students got to sample some sap in its raw form.
"Basically, it's just sugar water," he said.
Then they got to try the finished product, which they eagerly soaked up using French toast sticks.
Afterwards, they enjoyed an all-natural, pre-lunch sugar buzz.
Folks who wish to sample Keller's product are invited to attend the farm's 6th Annual Maple Syrup Festival Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.