Bob Mayer likes to work on the fringes. As the proprietor of Immaculate Farm on Sperry Road in Chesterland, he got his start selling what many people used to consider a pest. Mayer and his wife, Audrey, live in a farmhouse built in the 1840s on 200 acres. When his parents bought the property in 1967, it was in need of a little TLC. In restoring the property, he discovered it was covered with ramps.
Not many people knew what to do with them at the time, but Audrey’s cousin, Parker Bosley, the godfather of the local food movement in Northeast Ohio, did. The Mayers harvested the ramps and began selling them at local farmers markets.
“We were the only ramp people for years and years and years,” says Mayer.
Now he has his hands on another fringe product: shagbark hickory syrup. “It’s lighter than maple with a smoky hickory flavor to it,” Mayer explains. He suggests that cooks can use the hickory syrup anywhere maple is called for. For example, Chef Karen Small of Flying Fig in Ohio City uses it in a scallop recipe and Mayer likes it as a pork glaze.
The syrup is not made from sap; it is made from the frangible bark of the hickory tree, which is packed in a pot, covered in water and boiled to extract the essence. “The bark almost curls before it falls off,” Bob Mayer said. Because the hickory bark regenerates, the process is sustainable.
He is one of only a handful of people across the country making this unique syrup. Hickoryworks in Indiana offers a version and a producer in Alaska makes birch syrup.
The farm is a hobby for Bob and Audrey right now, though Bob is seriously considering incorporating so that he can get the syrup on retail shelves. For now, there’s only one place you can pick up Mayer’s hickory syrup while supplies last—the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square on Cleveland’s east side. An eight-ounce bottle costs $5.