The thick, amber-colored syrup is the sticky stuff of
legend. Its smoky, nutty flavor is less sweet than maple,
more complex, and hauntingly unique. And the thousands
of chefs and home gourmets who count themselves among
the converted can tell you that Gordon Jones is definitely
not barking up the wrong tree.
Jones and wife Sherrie Yarling, the country's sole producers
of Shagbark Hickory Syrup, live and work on 64-acres
of land in Brown County, Indiana that boasts a six-acre
lake, and rich groves of hickory, ash, oak and poplar
But it is the shagbark hickory-specifically the bark-that
provides Jones and Yarling their livelihood in the form
of the luscious condiment that has palates panting for
Each bottle of the filtered and aged syrup ("like fine
wine," says Jones) is like liquid Americana. The process
of distilling the extract from the bark dates back to
the Native Americans indigenous to the region.
The origins of the exact recipe are at least 200 years
old, passed on to them by a mysterious elderly man buying
firewood. He remarked that his great-great-grandmother
had made syrup from the bark of the hickory trees. When
the man returned for more firewood, Jones-undaunted
by a few botched batches-offered to trade the wood for
The couple spent countless hours tweaking the recipe,
working out the packaging and distribution. "It was
definitely a labor of love," remarked Jones, who moved
with Yarling in 1990 from Palm Beach, Florida to cultivate
Shiitake mushrooms on the acreage.
Now, over ten years and as many expansions in production
later, Jones and Yarling are still the sole employees
of Hickoryworks, where they handle the production, distribution
and marketing of the syrup to a growing clienele.
They also sell a syrup made from the tulip poplars (historically
used to flavor spruce beer) plentiful on their property.
In contrast, the poplar syrup is very floral in character
and far more delicate than the shagbark.
Jones is also putting the finishing touches on a cookbook
of recipes collected from his customers, chefs and creative
home cooks around the country, as well as some he and
his wife have developed in their own kitchen.
The recipes-some of which can be found at their website-use
the syrup in desserts (like crème brulee), sauces (like
homemade catsup and salad dressings), and as an ingredient
in savory dishes from sweet potatoes to salmon. Even
cocktails, the Shagbark Julep for one, are included.
"It pairs very well with Bourbon," says Jones, who is
quick to mention that Julia Child uses that mixture
as a glaze on ribs.
Before Hickoryworks, Yarling was a paralegal for 17
years, and Jones had worn many hats in publishing, advertising,
sales, as well as managing hotels and restaurants. "Now,
when I wake up in the morning and my feet hit the floor,
I'm at work," says Jones. "And my wife is the CEO."
With business flourishing and so much syrup lying around,
it is no wonder life for Gordon Jones is so sweet.
Written By: Javan Wygal - a recovering line cook
cum freelance food writer based out of his native California.
He is obviously doing something right - both his beautiful
wife and daughter are British!