Fred Feaster, noted cane syrup maker, dies at 79


Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.

Harold Fredrick “Fred” Feaster Sr., noted for his cane syrup making skills far beyond the northwest Marion County community of Shiloh, died Feb. 5, at age 79.

The cane syrup, sold under the Deerfield Farm label since 2001, was handcrafted by Feaster at his and his wife Barbara's 40-acre Century Pioneer Farm, with plenty of assistance from family members, friends and neighbors.

Each year in early December, locals as well as folks from far away keep an eye out for small signs to appear on roadsides in and around Micanopy, McIntosh and outlying areas, alerting them to “cane grinding this weekend,” typically the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, when the farm is opened to visitors while the syrup is being made and bottled.

Fred built the outdoor kitchen that houses the massive evaporator he also built, which can process 400 gallons of cane juice, producing 40 gallons of syrup -- pronounced “surp” on this farm -- in one cooking.

Visitors can see Fred's grandfather's cane mill grinding the cane that Fred grew in fields nearby and watch as the fluid makes its way to the evaporator, a rectangular contraption that fills the front of the kitchen.

The cane juice enters on one end of the evaporator, where it is heated by a propane torch. A moving river of bubbling cane juice steadily grows thicker as it nears the other end of evaporator. The steam that rises through the rafters is sweetly intoxicating.

Fred began making syrup in the late 1990s. In recent years, as his health began to fail, his son Beau and any number of grandsons began manning the syrup end of the evaporator and regaling visitors with the science and history of syrup making, all learned from Fred.

Those who come to witness the age-old tradition are treated to entertainment, food and plenty of sitting around visiting with friends new and old. They often leave with bottles - and even cases - of syrup and jars of Barbara's homemade jams, jellies and pickles.

Fred also was well known for being a commercial contractor in Hillsborough County. While he and Barbara lived there, they traveled most weekends to Shiloh to build their farm home, finally settling here full-time in the early 1990s. Fred's original 90-gallon syrup cooking kettle, formerly housed in a breezeway, is now inside the house, which was built around it years ago.

The farm is on land grant property, which was ceded by Queen Isabella of Spain, according to Barbara. The grant, roughly 160 acres, remains in family hands. Surrounding Deerfield Farm are houses and tracts owned by eight first cousins, including Jerome Feaster.

“It's still farmed by family,” he said. “We raise cattle, cane and kids.”

As with many of the required chores on any farm, along with the fun events like the cane grinding and syrup making, the Feaster clan has stuck together. As requested by Barbara, Fred's yellow pine casket, made from a tree on the farm, was hand-built in the cane shed by his sons and grandsons, cousin Jerome and neighbor Jan Bweernink.

“As usual, it was family and friends working together,” Jerome Feaster said.

He said Fred died under hospice care following a lengthy illness.

“It was not unexpected, but it's still tough,” he said.

The funeral service was held Saturday at Shiloh United Methodist Church, with burial in the adjacent cemetery.

Fred, who was married to Barbara for 59 years, also is survived by their children Hal, Beau, Conrad, Russell Lee and Janie, and what Jerome Feaster called “a cook shed full” of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

As to the future of Deerfield Farms cane syrup, Jerome Feaster said, “We're going to keep making syrup, absolutely.”

Contact Susan Smiley-Height at 867-4121 or susan.smiley-height@starbanner.com or on Twitter at @ssmileyheight.

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