Cross of Christ Church syrup is a ‘Taste of Heaven’

Rev. Lane Zaffke checks the massive sap collector that at one time served as a milk house cooler to see how much sap his trees had produced. Photo by Clay Schuldt

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

Every church has its method of raising money. The Cross of Christ Church of Houston has a particular neat and tasty way of gathering donations.

A mile and a half out of Spring Grove just off County Road 27 at the home of Pastor Lane Zaffke stands a grove of maple trees.  Every year Zaffke and volunteers from the Cross of Christ Church congregation are able to make thousands of dollars in profits for the church by distilling the trees’ sap into a 100 percent pure natural maple syrup.

By selling the syrup at $10 a pint the church has been able to raise enough money to fund their youth and family programs for eight years.

In the past these funds have been used to send kids to Tanzania to do mission work and paying for families to attend finance classes.  Ninety percent of the profits from the syrup go to the church while the other 10 percent goes to maintaining the operation. The syrup is already available for sale at the Cross of Christ Church.

“We moved to the farm in 1987,” said Zaffke “and that was the first time I tapped a tree. It was just the trees in the yard. I had three boys and it was always a fun project.”

At first it was a small operation with a few trees tapped and enough syrup for his immediate family. Than about eight years ago a member of Zaffke’s church, Roger Meyer, came out to Zaffke’s home and saw the large maple tree forest and suggested producing the syrup on a larger scale.

Meyer designed and helped build the syrup processing equipment along with the help of some volunteers from Zaffke’s church. In the eight years Zaffke and Meyer have been making maple syrup it had been a time inducing and labor strenuous operation which required volunteers to carry buckets of sap up and down a hillside. However this year the process became more streamlined with the installation of a sap pipeline. Around 2,500 feet of blue U.V. tubing runs through Zaffke’s maple tree forest carrying sap from the trees into the wood stove boiling vat.

“We started with just 50 to 75 buckets,” Zaffke explained. “Now we have 355 taps out this year and it’s all in a pipeline and we don’t need buckets anymore.” It cost $3,500 to put the pipeline in but that money has already been paid back.

The system requires little maintenance. Since the trees grow on a hillside a pumping system is unnecessary as gravity pulls the sap down through the tubes. As the tubing is made from ultraviolet material the sun causes no damage and is not susceptible to mold.

The tubes can remain up all year long. The tubes do need to be checked every now and then for damage caused by deer or squirrels, but animal interference is not a significant hold back. The previous system of using buckets required significantly more attention as buckets need to be cleaned out daily to avoid mold. In addition, at least once a year a bucket of sap would be spilled while transferring it from the trees to the wood stove.

While the new piping system makes things easier now, it took a lot of work to set up. When Zaffke and a few volunteers began installing the sap pipeline the snow was knee deep and hard to move through. Installing the pipeline made several of the volunteers miss the bucket system. However, with the system now in place, the operation runs a lot smoother.

The sap flows through the UV piping into a 110 gallon vat where the water is boiled off by a wood stove, which adds to the syrup’s flavor. The stove burns 24 hours a day and someone must always be nearby to manage it. Pastor Zaffke fills the stove every night before going to sleep and checks again first thing in the morning.

Pure maple sap is only three percent sugar. This is because most of the sap is made up of water. It requires 42 gallons of maple tree sap to create a gallon of maple syrup.  Currently 25 gallons of maple syrup have been produced for sale at The Cross of Christ Church.

The mild winter has allowed the sap to flow a lot better than other years. For sap to flow properly temperatures need to be above freezing in the morning and below freezing at night. However, the syrup season will be over once the trees start budding as the syrup will become too bitter.

Anyone wishing to purchase maple syrup may do so through the Cross of Christ Church in Houston. At only $10 a pint this syrup is cheaper than most store-bought brands.  In addition, Pastor Zaffke is confident that his syrup would beat most other maple syrups.

“It has a sweeter taste than Vermont’s syrup,” Zaffke explained.  “Our limestone makes it sweeter without the bitter aftertaste.”  However, Zaffke admits that “Everyone who makes maple syrup thinks their syrup is the best.”

Still, there are plenty of people that agree with the slogan on the Cross of Christ syrup bottle. The Cross of Christ Maple syrup is indeed “A Taste of Heaven.”