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HICKORY SYRUP . . . RICHES TO RAGS? FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

(A long time ago now I was contacted by Gordon Jones of Hickoryworks Inc to ask whether I would put a link to their Hickory Syrup website on Hub-UK. When I had a look at their website I was fascinated by the story that was hidden amongst the web pages - giving up the Florida sunshine and their jobs for an unknown future. This is the brief story Gordon has sent me - if you have any questions you will find their web address and email address at the end of the article).

After a freak Florida ice storm littered the yard of their Palm Beach Florida abode, crackling as they were trod upon, Gordon Jones lamented to his wife Sherrie Yarling that he missed the changes in the seasons that he grew to love during his boyhood in the Northwest.

Sherrie mentioned that she too missed the sight of the changing leaves but wasn’t to keen on the February chill. She said the 64 acre lake site property in Brown County, Indiana, that her father and some of his college buddies had purchased while attending Indiana University, sat fallow since her return from Europe, and no family member had indicated any interest in building on the site.

The couple started making plans to bag the business world. Sherrie had been a paralegal aid for some seventeen years and Gordon had (as his father-in-law said) done just about everything - Real Estate., Publishing, Advertising, Media Sales and the Restaurant business.

Plans completed, the couple moved North and began clearing a home site on the property.

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Prior to the move, Gordon had researched the possibility of growing Shiitake mushrooms, and the latitude of the property mirrored the climate of the region in Japan that grew this gourmet fungi.

The 64 acre property had been clear cut at the turn of the century, and there had been no stewardship since.

Poplar, Ash, Hickory and Oak stands were plentiful and Gordon’s research had indicated that red, black and white oak were three of the most sought after hardwoods for the cultivation of the shiitake.

After several years of providing upscale Indianapolis restaurants with their mushrooms, the number of logs in their run, needed replenishing, as the inoculated logs produce their bounty they consume the nutrients in their host and new logs need to be inoculated and added to the run.

As usual, the couple dropped several mature black and red oaks on the property, and began trimming the thicker branches and cutting them into four foot lengths.

One afternoon, an elderly gentleman drove up in a vintage pickup truck and asked if he could purchase some of the larger logs for fire wood. The two men agreed on a fair price and the elder gentleman returned some hours later with his helpers, who began splitting and loading the wood into the truck.

As the two older men watched the youngsters work, the older man walked over to a shagbark hickory tree and stripped off a small piece of bark, stating that his Great-Great Grandmother had made a syrup from the bark when he was growing up in Brown County.

Puzzled by the statement, Gordon thought the man must have meant the sap from the tree, and asked the man to tell him how it was done.

Gordon’s first attempt was a total disaster but fortunately the old fellow returned some weeks later in search of more fire wood.

Tutelage and several failed attempts later, the old fellow took pity on the city boy and one afternoon appeared with an almost illegible recipe for Hickory Syrup in hand.

Gordon remembered his father telling him, “ When all else fails . . . read the instructions “.

Perfecting the formula for Hickory Syrup was a labour of love for the couple. And when they presented it to their shiitake mushroom customers the chefs ran with this unique new condiment.

What with designing labels, gathering bark, importing bottles from Germany and Italy, making and ageing the Hickory Syrup, bottling, labelling the finished product and applying the crested wax seal, plus attending four different farm markets, the couple found that the mushroom business was being neglected. So a local friend, who had indicated an interest in the fungi business was recruited to oversee the operation and start a run of his own.

Hickoryworks now has foragers who collect bark for them ( the tree must be seven years old before it will give up its bark) and removing the bark does not harm the tree.

Sherrie and Gordon sent a bottle of their Hickory Syrup to Julia Child for her 85th Birthday. She responded with a card wishing them well with there new product and said, ” She liked to mix the Hickory Syrup with bourbon as a glaze on Ribs “.

In February of 2001 the renowned gourmet purveyor, Dean & Deluca added the Hickory Syrup to their Web site, and Hickory Syrup is now available in all of their stores and is featured in their spring catalogue.

The winter of 1999 was the cause of cabin fever for the couple, and the wheels started turning.

At a farm market that past summer, a doctor friend had asked if they had ever heard of a spice bush, so they went to the web. On a British web site that catalogued edible flora and fauna, they found the spice bush but that wasn’t the best part of the quest. Below the spice bush was the caption Poplar Bark (a flavouring) WOW !!!

Further research found that the Bark from the tulip poplar has been used as a flavouring for spruce beer. Not to mention a tea was made from the bark by native Americans to treat upset stomachs, rheumatism and fevers.

Settlers expanded the use to cure coughs, snake bites, headaches and a host of other maladies.
Some even chewed the green bark thinking it was an Aphrodisiac. This notion may have come from feeling the effects of a chemical found in the inner bark (hydrochlorate of tulipiferine) an alkaloid that can stimulate the heart.

As you would expect, Sherrie and Gordon now sell their Poplar Bark Syrup to many of there Shagbark Hickory Syrup customers.

Hickoryworks Inc is located in Southern Indiana. The web address is www.hickoryworks.com

Email Hub-UK : info@hub-uk.com