A sweet reward

by Sophie Kruse • Photos Special to Hudson Monthly Published:

The Hudson Farmers Market is home to many familiar faces each week.

Virginia Goodell has been representing the Goodell Family Farm at the market each Saturday for the past six years. But there's more history to her family's maple syrup farm than that.

Her husband's great-grandfather moved from Connecticut in 1825 and purchased the land located in Mantua -- specifically because it had the hills he was accustomed to in the east.

The farm began as a general farm as most were in that time, but began to make maple syrup right away due to the amount of sugar maple trees on the 325-acre property.

"Maple syrup is made in the states around the Great Lakes," Goodell says. "They're the only ones with the sugar maple tree."

Goodell, who was married to her late husband Frank for 64 years, is an in-law to the family but takes on a vital role within the farm of making a variety of maple products and selling them and the syrup both from the farm and at local markets.

Since Frank's passing, the operations are primarily run by their sons Jay and Bruce, along with grandson Nathan, who is the sixth generation in the Goodell family.

Most of the syrup is made in March and April, and the trees are tapped at the end of February. Over the years, the process has been shortened due to reverse osmosis, which takes out some of the water of the syrup.

"But it can't be done completely with reverse osmosis," Goodell says. "It has to also be heated with real heat to get the flavor and color. No one would want to buy it if it looked and tasted like Karo syrup."

Frank had suggested to the family that they should get the machine, but others protested due to the high cost.

"[When we finally got one] everyone said we should have had one for years," she says. "It was a really sensational improvement."

All syrups are graded, which essentially allows the producers to label the syrup by the color and flavor for customers. Grade A includes light amber, medium amber and dark amber -- most of which are made earlier in the season. Grade B is a much darker syrup that is produced later in the season.

The farm, located at 10220 Peck Road in Mantua, is the same farm that was chosen in 1825. The house Goodell lives in was built on the property in 1905, and is the same house that Frank was born in.

The barn on the property was built in 1893, and was the first barn that P.L. Lumber Company in Ravenna built.

"They were using 24 and 26 foot beams from our woods," Goodell says.

According to Goodell, all the logs were taken on a horse-drawn carriage to Ravenna to be treated and were brought back the same way.

Along with her time at the farm, Goodell, who is a Kent State University graduate, taught home economics at Crestwood High School for 28 years.

She and Frank were married once both graduated from college. He was an Ohio State University graduate and had studied agronomy and agricultural economics.

The first undertaking the couple took when married was to buy cans so the syrup could be sold in quantities smaller than a gallon. Goodell also took it upon herself to make a variety of new products with syrup. The first new product was maple butter. The idea came from her son Keith, who questioned his mother when she purchased honey butter.

"He said, 'you should be making maple butter,'" Goodell says. "And I've been selling it ever since."

It took some formulating, but is now a primary product for the farm. Another staple is maple candy -- a sweet that many are familiar with when thinking about maple syrup.

"It was originally called maple cream, but that confused everybody," Goodell says. "It never had milk in it. 'Cream' referred to the creamy texture of the candy."

She also makes maple nuts by taking a heavy cooked syrup that isn't beaten and pours it over nuts.

Another Goodell product is maple corn, made by her daughter-in-law Barbara. It's made by taking a thicker, cooked syrup and pouring it over popcorn, and then the corn is baked at a low temperature in the oven for several hours.

Since their beginnings, the popcorn and nuts are always a popular sell at farmers markets, where they sell for $2.50.

Goodell syrups and products are sold at a variety of local farmers markets, including Hudson, Shaker, Aurora and NEOMED. Goodell is the face of the farm at the Hudson and NEOMED markets.

"My favorite part about the markets are meeting the people and talking with them," she says.

Products are also sold at the farm, but purchasers are encouraged to call before they stop by.

Goodell, now 92 years old, continues to make all of these products in the kitchen she has in the basement of her home. She has a variety of other tasks at the family farm -- including mowing the yard on the property which takes her nearly three hours on a riding mower.

"She's such a firecracker. She's amazing," says Audrey Hylton, manager of the Hudson Market. "If I can be like that when I'm 92, that would be awesome. Maybe I should have had more maple syrup in my diet."

The Hudson Farmers Market has around 35 vendors, and Goodell runs a very popular booth. According to Hylton, many people seek her booth out regularly.

"We just love her at the market," Hylton says.

For more than 30 years, the Goodells have put on a pancake breakfast, which are hosted at the Shalersville Townhall on three Sundays in March from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"We started it when I was still teaching," she said. "I don't know how I did that!"

Attendees are treated to all you can eat pancakes, either buckwheat or regular, and sausage. Breakfast is served with, of course, Goodell syrup.

"There are some people who say they haven't missed one breakfast in 30 years," Goodell says.

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