What do Northeast Iowans do when it warms up in the spring and gets cold at night? Well, make their own maple syrup, of course! It won't be long now and we can't wait for another adventure with the Klimesh family!
We have friends who make their own maple syrup from their trees and it is fun to watch and even better to taste the sweet syrup on waffles or pancakes! The enticing sweet smell of maple syrup greets us as we enter Ronnie and Janice Klimesh’s sap house on their acreage by Lawler each spring. After weeks of waiting for their tapped maple trees to run sap, it’s finally here! “Mother Nature decides when it’s time, you just have to be patient,” says Ronnie about the historic craft of making maple syrup he learned from his father, the late Glen Klimesh. Usually the Klimesh’s tap about 60 trees in late February and the sap can run all the way up to mid April if it’s a good season. Continuous cycles of freezing and thawing are the makings of great maple syrup. The season started out slow with unseasonably warm weather that did not hit below freezing in the evenings one year. Then the weeks of unseasonably cold weather took most of the day to become warm enough to get the sap running, instead of running all day. It was on a Tuesday night when we stopped over and found that the sap was running fairly well and they had enough sap over days of collecting to run the evaporator, which is how they process the raw sap from the maple trees into maple syrup. The evaporator does what it’s named after, it evaporates the raw sap into maple syrup. The evaporator is soldered instead of welded so it can expand or flex with the heat. It’s important that it sits level so the raw sap can push through the evaporator to its finished stage. Then the syrup is poured into three strainers before canned.
“The average ratio of sap turned into maple syrup is forty gallons of sap to make only one gallon of maple syrup. Currently it is running forty-two to forty-five. It’s an addictive hobby that’s lots of work,” says Ronnie.
Watching the time intensive task of clear raw sap turning a golden tan as it rolls into a brown mixture and boils down into maple syrup was fascinating. When the rolling sap boils, it can get so high it almost boils over, Ronnie uses an old farmwife trick of pouring a little cream in and very soon the boiling goes down. They test with a hydrometer, which determines the density and tell when the syrup is ready. The syrup is done at approximately 211° F.
As the batch was cooking, Janice went out to collect more sap with the three-wheeler and wagon full of jugs. Both of their sons Troy and Tyler help when they are home.
Ronnie and Janice both work, but in the chilly spring evenings and weekends they dedicate themselves to the task of making maple syrup. “When I start a batch after work, it can take up to 1:30 in the morning to finish—making the five o’clock alarm come way too early,” says Ronnie. The Klimesh’s do not sell their prized syrup, but give it away to family and friends. Homemade maple syrup can go for $80 a gallon.
Awhile back, Ronnie and Janice planted three to four acres of maple trees on their land for the future generations of maple syrup makers.
Ronnie and his nine brothers and sisters learned the technique from their late father, Glen Klimesh and mother Alice of Protivin. They made maple syrup for over forty years on the home farm. Also, brothers Stac, Kurt, Kent, and Odie along with their families have bought a new evaporator together and help Alice continue the family tradition by teaching her grandchildren the art of making maple syrup.