Sunday, March 10, 2013

Amber Waves of Syrup

Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup

What do the Cincinnati Reds, a stray dog, and acres full of forest have in common? If I told you the answer was maple syrup, you would be well within your rights to be a bit confused since, on the surface, they seem completely unrelated. In order to connect the dots, I must take you to a stunning property nestled into the Appalachian foothills, and set the clock back nearly 20 years.

Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup was conceived when Laura McManus-Berry and her now late husband John settled into their home which sits upon 200 acres in Athens, Ohio (otherwise known as my happy place) . The land just happened to be lush with nearly 30 acres of maple trees; a myriad of species covering the spectrum of red, black, silver and the ever popular sugar. Since they were not aware of anyone making maple syrup in Southern Ohio, the couple took a chance and began experimenting with “sugaring”, as the professionals dub it. They started small by tapping a few hundred trees and began selling at the local farmer’s market. As the popularity of their product grew, they quickly made the decision to invest in commercial equipment and expand the business. In order to fully legitimize the operation, Laura and John knew they needed to think of an appropriate name to start marketing their sweet amber liquid. Around this time, the couple had discovered a young stray dog on their property. John, being fond of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball legend Pete Rose, decided that given Rose’s recent gambling troubles they would take a chance on keeping the unpredictable dog and name him Pete. Fittingly, they realized their new found company was also a risk given the warmer southern location and the vast responsibilities facing a team of two. The Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup brand and label bearing a sketch of their trusty pooch was created. John passed away right before the peak of maple syrup season eleven years ago. Laura credits the incredible community of Athens for saving her business, and she described to me how a crew of people showed up at her doorstep ready to help even though they were clueless as to the complex process. Since Laura was the only one that possessed the knowledge of turning sap into syrup, it forced her to keep working and she noted it was “better to be busy than idle and it kept me going”. She went forward that year with making her delicious product thanks to the support she received from her friends and neighbors and has continued to carry forward the business her and her husband had built together.

Today, Laura runs the company with the help of Pete’s unrelated canine successor Danny, and what began as a few hundred taps has turned into a few thousand. As we walked back into the woods, she brought me up to speed on sugaring in Athens. Early on, Laura and John realized what was best for their rolling property and small operation was to utilize a system of tubes. She pointed out the intricate web of tubing that connects each tree and winds its way through the woods. The maple sap is collected in a large gathering tank that is fed by a main line which is connected to a series of lateral lines allare hooked to the tree taps. During the short 6-8 week season that falls in February and March, the freezing and thawing of winter turning into spring starts the tree sap flowing. Laura explained how 45-55 gallons of the clear liquid sap equates to only one singular gallon of finished maple syrup. Each year, Sticky Pete’s turns thousands of gallons of sap into syrup and Laura works nonstop, sometimes 24-7, continually processing. In order to get the sap from the gathering tank in the middle of the woods to the sugar house to be processed, Laura pumps it through large tubing at a rate of 200 gallons per hour. Once the sap has made it to the sugar house, it is concentrated by flowing through a reverse osmosis machine. Straight out of the tree the sap contains 2-3% sugar, but after a run through this machine the sugar content is bumped up to 9%. This increase in sugar allows for less time boiling, which in turn makes a finer grade of syrup and also saves time and energy on the farm. After it has nearly tripled in sugar content, the liquid weaves along in a constant boil to release more water and until it is finally turned into the golden syrup you enjoy on your morning pancakes and waffles. To be considered pure maple syrup the final product is required to have a sugar content of at least 66%! Early in the season, the syrup that is produced is light in color and flavor, and as the season progresses the hue and flavor gets darker and richer. After reaching the necessary sugar level, the syrup must be filtered and bottled, all of which is done by Laura with minimal help.

After spending just a short period of time with Laura, I can see why a close friend referred to her as a “little power house.” She loves working her land, being out in nature and creating a beautiful and delicious product for local Ohioans to enjoy. You can find Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup at the Athens Farmers market, various restaurants uptown Athens, as an ingredient in several O’Chocolate bars, local festivals, and Celebrate Local in Columbus. Little by little I am being exposed to the growing food society of Athens, Ohio, and Laura Berry’s Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup are another shining example of the great local food and inspirational people who call the Athens area home.

Maple Syrup

The Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup (pictured left) traveled 86 miles to Columbus, while the syrup (pictured right) traveled roughly 477 miles to Columbus.

Sticky Pete’s is proud to say that their product is 100% pure maple syrup. Unfortunately, most of the well-known syrup brands you find on your grocery store shelf are mainly corn syrup loaded with artificial flavors and colors. Yes, there is a tremendous difference in cost, but not only do they taste drastically different, but if you have ever witnessed the tedious process of making pure maple syrup you will happily pay the higher charge for the real deal. Please refer to my first blog post about Malabar Farm maple syrup to discover the difference between syrup grades and health benefits.


A Local Choice: Malabar Farm

Buckwheat Pancakes w/ Dark Chocolate Chips

These delicious and hearty pancakes can be made gluten free and with or without chocolate chips.

Click on the recipe cards to print your copy:


Tamra said...

Funny, we just bought some pure maple syrup after watching a show on how its made. The kids wanted to try and now there is no going back. I'm going to need to stock up on this yummy stuff. :)

Anonymous said...

Sticky Pete's maple syrup is delicious and Laura and the other good folks who produce it make you feel good about making the purchase.

Wheesu said...

The "Log Cabin Original Syrup" isn't a comparable product. It doesn't claim to have a drop of maple in it, so it's not just non-local, it's not even maple syrup!

A Local Choice said...

Thank you for your comment. I am aware that the two products are not similar, but I believe many consumers do not realize the differences. The goal of my site is not to compare two local products, but rather to educate consumers who may purchase the featured ingredient in my post, and open their eyes to a much better, local choice.

A Local Choice said...

Thanks for the comment Tamra! Sounds like Dom and I need to get together and cook up something yummy!

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