For those who have lived in Geauga County for any length of time, March is not the beginning of the spring season. It’s the beginning of maple season! Spring just happens to occur around the same time, not the other way around. And from the perspective of an 8 year old boy, which would you be more inclined to associate March with – the sweet fragrance of a golden yellow flower or the sweet fragrance of the rich golden brown maple sap boiling away in kettles the size of elephants (remember – he was 8 years old)! Probably a few secret tastings as well….
Tom Blair will tell you that if you place two spoonfuls of maple syrup in front of him, one from a Geauga County producer and one from an out-of-county producer, he can taste the difference – without peeking! How? “There’s maple syrup running in my veins,” he says. It must be the kind that he has been helping to produce for over 54 years now. If it’s true that we become like those whom we spend the most time with, then perhaps all those years spent in the industry have had a similar effect. He knows his own ‘kin.’
Tom was 8 years old when he first made maple syrup, and by the time he was a teenager, he was gathering sap for the Burton Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber built the Burton Log Cabin on the square in the center of town and opened in 1931, just in time for maple season. Since 1936, they have been instrumental in marketing the maple syrup industry. Tom, who has been tree-tapping since 1960, took over the role of the chair of the log cabin committee in 1980, and 54 years later he is still actively involved.
As the official buyer of syrup, all of the producers Tom deals with know him as an honest, fair person as they sell the fruit of their hard work. Only those who have made maple syrup can appreciate the labor involved, and Tom has great respect for all the individuals he deals with as he purchases their crop.
Working with producers requires that he delivers clean barrels to them in early spring. He then drives his own personal truck back out to pick up the product; grades the syrup in front of the producer for color and brix; loads the syrup on his truck; returns to the cabin to weigh the syrup carefully; writes a check for the syrup; then drives the check back to the producer.
Managing the syrup throughout the year requires transfer from barrels (canning) into containers of all sizes. This entails starting the heating process at 5:30 in the morning. After it reaches temperatures hot enough for the others to help can, it requires blending of various barrels with various qualities of color and brix to ensure a high quality product sold in the cabin. He also chooses barrels from producers to be used as candy and then sets these barrels (400 lbs each) up in racks. The cabin takes great pride in its candy.
Tom does not only buy, grade, and can syrup, he has been a dependable, dedicated overseer of cabin operations. He is the “Mr. Fixit” who has repaired and sealed the roof many times, changed light fixtures, fixed drains and toilets, insulated and built the “cool” barrel storage room, and performed countless other repairs which have preserved the cabin as a center of tourism and a place of historical significance.
Tom serves on many Chamber of Commerce committees and, in particular, the Oxtoberfest Committee. He continues flipping pancakes to this day for the Rotary, which dates back to his earlier years of participation at the fire station. Tom was Mayor of Burton Village from 2008 – 2011 and is currently on the Burton Village Council. He is a member of the Geauga County Historical Society, the NFIB, and the NRA. Tom has worked for Cleveland Fireliner and Geauga Truck, and since 1985, has owned Geauga Door.
Tom says that he made a promise to himself that he would keep the tradition of those who walked ahead of him. And that he is doing!
Since 1984, The Geauga County Maple Syrup Hall of Fame has been recognizing those who have been an important part of the maple syrup industry here in Geauga County with an annual induction ceremony. Tom Blair is the 2014 inductee chosen for this honor. The Geauga County Maple Syrup Hall of Fame officially welcomed him on April 19 at Mary Yoder’s Amish Kitchen in Middlefield.
Tags: Geauga County, Ohio, maple syrup, Maple Syrup Hall of Fame, Burton Chamber of Commerce, Burton Log Cabin, 2014 induction, Tom Blair, Geauga Door