Bark, pancakes, and shagbark hickory syrup


About the Shagbark Hickory Tree and Syrup

Shagbark hickory is a deciduous nut tree that grows in southeastern United States. The latin binomial name is Carya ovata.

Most people have never heard of a syrup made from shagbark hickory, and they assume it is like maple syrup. While hickory trees can be tapped and the sap boiled down, for this particular syrup, it’s the bark that is used. Sugar is added during the process, after making a strong tea from the bark, rather than cooking down the sap.

Here’s how the tree looks in the wild:

This is what the shagbark hickory tree looks like in the wild. See the flakes of bark peeling off?
This is what the shagbark hickory tree looks like in the wild. See the flakes of bark peeling off?

We only take the loose bark from the tree’s trunk. Taking too much would leave the tree vulnerable to infestation or disease. If someone is logging in our area and they’ve downed the shagbark trees, we’ll ask to take the bark from those as well.

The leaves of a shagbark hickory tree looks a lot like the leaves on other nut trees. They grow in a pattern of seven leaflets per leaf.

Shagbark Hickory Leaves
A leaflet from the shagbark hickory tree.

Several varieties of hickory grows in our Wild Ozark woods, and they all make nuts, too. But not all of them taste as good as the shagbark.

shagbark hickory nuts
hickory nuts

Eventually we’ll try to come up with some affordable products made from the nuts. If you’ve ever tried shelling hickory nuts, you’ll understand why anything made from the nut meats would be expensive!

Fortunately, it’s the bark that we use.

bark of the shagbark hickory tree


The Burnt Kettle Story

My husband comes up with some tasty ideas for things to make here on the Wild Ozark homestead. Last time it was home roasted coffee. That was so successful it’s now one of our homestead standards.

This time his idea was shagbark hickory syrup.

Time Tested

Apparently, this kind of syrup is an old-timey thing. There are lots of variations on the recipe online. Rob was looking up recipes for hickory pie (like pecan pie but using hickories instead) and he stumbled on a post about the syrup and his creative wheels started turning.

We gathered some bark so we could give it a try, because the idea of making syrup from it sure did intrigue.

On a Friday eve that fall, Rob made the syrup. Delicious!

It wasn’t long afterwards that we started thinking bigger.

Once we’d jumped through the main hoops to get a legal business started, we hit a snag when it came time for liability insurance.

Because our business made things other than food products, we couldn’t insure it. So we had to create a new business just for the syrup and other future food products.

So what started out as an experiment in our home kitchen has built into a full-fledged business and LLC company: Burnt Kettle Foods.

A basic recipe for Shagbark Hickory Syrup

Rob modified the original recipe some to make it taste more like we like and you can do the same to suit your own tastes. Here’s a rough outline of how it’s done:

  • Gather bark from the tree
  • Clean bark by washing and scrubbing
  • Break bark into smaller pieces
  • Roast bark in the oven
  • Add bark to a pot and cover by several inches with water
  • Decoct the bark by cooking on very low heat (no boiling, no bubbles breaking)
  • Remove bark from water, strain liquid, return to pot
  • Barely simmer to concentrate to nice dark color
  • For each cup of liquid add 2 cups sugar
  • Cook until sugar is completely dissolved and thickens
  • Pour into jars
  • Enjoy!

Scaling Up

We’re cooking large batches at the Food Innovation Kitchen in Fayetteville Arkansas.

If you know of any good chefs who ¬†might like to try our product in their kitchens, let me know. Or let them know! I’ll send samples to anyone interested in wholesale purchases.

We sell them retail at $12/bottle on the website, $15/bottle at Etsy, and it’s available at various locations throughout northwest Arkansas.

For wholesale inquiries, drop me an email at [email protected]