POWNAL — Shagbark is bringing a new sweetness to the Vermont-made market, with its hickory syrup sold about 50 feet away from where it was produced.
“We’re the only one in Vermont doing it,” said Shadbark co-owner Gary Reed, as he stood inside the little building that he calls the shagbark shack at 115 U.S. Route 7. “And one of three in New England.”
His wife, Lana Reed, the other owner, held a 16-ounce bottle of the syrup. “Anything you want to add a little sweetness to — anything — you can use this,” she said.
The syrup — the flagship item made by GPR Craft Products LLC — is made by using bark from the shagbark hickory tree. All the bark comes from Vermont, Gary Reed said, and all of it is harvested after it falls off the trunk. No trees are felled to produce the syrup.
“It’s a very valuable tree,” he said. “That tree is needed for all of our butterflies and bees, and migrating birds and bats.”
A nontraditional cement mixer
Back in Pownal, the bark is washed for two hours in a cement mixer, a truck that was bought new and only used for food. The bark is then roasted before it goes into a kettle with water and gets heated. Sugar is later added. The solution is then put into a pan and boiled.
“You cook it down,” Reed said, “and get it to the right thickness level.”
The result is an amber-colored product that resembles maple syrup in texture but hits the tongue with much less of a sugary punch.
GPR, which takes its name from Reed’s initials, was formed in August 2016. Reed said he spent many months experimenting with different ways of making the syrup before arriving at the process that yielded a superior product. A pipefitter who traveled the world helping build various types of industrial plants, Reed retired in 2015 and decided he wanted a home-based business that was tied to nature.
“Ideally, I want to do different syrups in small amounts,” he said. “But not maple. Everybody does that.”
In addition to the regular shagbark hickory syrup, GPR makes a version that includes cloves of garlic, and shagbark hickory cream, which is cooked longer than the syrup.
“I love to spread that cream on an English muffin with some butter,” Lana Reed said.
Sold on the roadside, in stores and online
In addition to the Reeds’ small wooden structure, their shagbark hickory syrup is sold online at VermontShagbarkSyrup.com and in some local stores, including Bringing You Vermont in Bennington, and the Woodford General Store in Woodford.
An 8-ounce bottle of the syrup was recently priced at $10; the 12-ounce container was selling for $15; and a 16-ounce bottle was priced at $20.
GPR also makes vinegars, using apples, grapes and cranberries. They also use shagbark to make a hickory molasses vinegar. Shagbark hickory garlic candy is planned for later this fall, and Reed said he is looking to make syrups from elderberries.
Lana Reed, a certified paralegal, once worked at a law firm and as an executive administrator. She handles the paperwork and financial side of the business, working from their house, which is down a driveway from the shagbark shack.
Gary Reed spends many of his days, and some nights, inside a yellow building with two high-bay roll-up doors that stands behind the shack. This is where he manufactures the products.
“I’m pretty much all self-taught,” he said. He lived on a farm in the northern part of the state until he was 13 and considers the harvesting and making of maple syrup a cherished memory of his youth.
If the Reeds are the production and administrative leads of GPR Craft Products, they rely on a friend and a friendly next-door neighbor to help with their two-person LLC.
Jim Carbin, whose house is closer to the shagbark shack than the Reeds’ home, normally will open the little building at 6:30 in the morning.
“He keeps a good eye on everything,” Lana Reed said. “A very good eye.”
Jim’s Preserve Delights, too
Carbin also sells jars of peach jam, strawberry jam, pickled garlic, pickled beans and other products under the name of Jim’s Preserve Delights. Labels on the jars proclaim they were “Made here in Vermont,” and the products are kept in a college-dorm refrigerator just inside the entrance to the shack.
A friend of Gary Reed’s, Jeff Reis, helps with the production effort. Containers are filled by hand, and the same hands also apply the labels.
“We get labels on cockeyed, and we’re proud of it,” Gary Reed said. “You see it’s family-run. No machines.”