Diamond J Farms’ Pure Maple Syrup can’t be found in any grocery stores or specialty shops in Allen County.
It isn’t advertised either. In fact, the only public mention is a rather small sign in front of a rural property on Campbell Road, east of Harlan and just a couple of miles from the Ohio line. There’s not even a sign on busy S.R. 37 that passes less than a half-mile away.
For Duane Jackson, who lives on the property his parents, Robert and Mary Jean Jackson, purchased in 1945, that’s just fine. “We give syrup to our family and friends and sell just enough to cover our costs. Word of mouth is our advertising and everyone who tries our syrup says it’s the ‘real stuff’ and vows they’ll never put store-bought syrup on their waffles and pancakes again,” Jackson said.
“When we were kids, my brothers Dale, Dean, sisters Shelley, Sandy and I used to play in the 50-acre woods at the back of the property. One day we found a 9-foot-by-3-foot iron trough. We didn’t know what it was, but learned it was probably used as an evaporator to make maple syrup in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Jackson said. “So making maple syrup is kind of a legacy thing for us. Though we make it the modern way now, the process is pretty much the way it was more than 100 years ago.
“About 10 years ago I told my brother Dale I was going to make syrup. I did some research and bought a kit at Bruggeman Lumber. It had nine taps and I inserted them in the sugar maple trees and hooked up nine buckets. That year we ‘cooked’ the sap in kitchen pans over an open fire. The second year we used a turkey fryer and the third we bought a small evaporator. Now we have 300 taps on 150 trees. During the season, if the weather is right and the sap is running well, a tree will fill up a bucket in just a day.”
Since those early days he built a 16-by-12-foot sugar shack, and installed a bigger, wood-fired evaporator. The weekend of March 13 and 14 was the fourth in a row that Jackson, with the help of his wife, Cindy, brother Dale, son Josh Snyder and friend Paul Mallory, have been “cooking” the sap they collected in February and earlier this month into maple syrup and bottling it. “It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. The sap has just 2% sugar, but after boiling it gets to 66% sugar,” he said.
Jackson pours the thick sap into the evaporator, adds water and brings the mixture to a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Steam fills the little shack and escapes out the door and the windows in the roof cupola. When the temperature gets to 219 degrees, it’s time to transfer it to a finisher, strain the liquid and pour it into gallon, quart and 12-ounce bottles. “It’s a time-consuming activity,” Jackson said, “but it beats cabin fever!”
“We’ve experimented with making walnut syrup. However, it takes 80 gallons of walnut sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. We only produce a few gallons a year. Cindy really likes the caramel flavor,” he added.