Maple syrup is something I enjoyed pretty regularly over my waffles or pancakes, but I never really think about where it comes from or how it is made. I was excited when Heather contacted me to be featured for their maple syrup! Heather and her husband Brett live on Clay Hill Ranch in Indiana where they raise mostly sheep, as well as cattle and hogs and of course maple syrup. I decided to change up my typical chocolate chip cookie recipe by adding oatmeal and some maple syrup. These cookies were fantastic! If you’re looking for an out of the box cookie recipe, try them!
- Who farms with you and what are their roles?
Farming is definitely a family affair for us. Brett farms primarily hay and straw with some row crops with his father, Barry Kessler. We live at Clay Hill Ranch, which is Heather’s family farm where we raise mostly sheep, as well as cattle and hogs and of course make our maple syrup. Our farm has been in the family since 1956 and is owned by Robert and LaCinda Browning, Heather’s parents, who both work off the farm. Most of the logistics of the farming falls to Brett and Barry and my attention has been on raising the boys. Now that they are older (11, 9, and 5) I have more time to work in the barn and the boys have their own responsibilities.
- What crops (or animals) do you grow and why?
Hay- We have always made our own hay, but the cost of quality hay equipment is pretty steep. Many of our neighbors have the hay ground but not the equipment or expertise to make their own. We own and rent hay ground and also do custom work. Brett’s father owns a trucking company so we are also able to deliver hay by the semi and have shipped our hay as far away as Texas and Florida.
Straw- A natural extension of the hay business
Maple Syrup- Our home is surrounded by some beautiful maple trees and a few years ago Brett thought it would be fun to try to make some maple syrup. He put in three taps, and we made some syrup just for us and some family. It was really good, so the next year we added a few more, and it kept growing. We do it all by hand, and bottle 100% pure maple syrup which we sell off the farm and to our friends and family.
In February or March we tap the trees. Timing is based on the weather. The best runs happen when it is below freezing at night but you get a good thaw in the day. We collect the sap which comes out at a drip pace in large buckets that we hang from the splice. The sap is then boiled down over an open burner. We use propane burners. It is then triple filtered to remove any impurities. We bottle it in a variety of sizes ranging from 3.4 ounces up to 64 ounces. Absolutely nothing is added at any time to the sap, resulting in 100% pure maple syrup with no preservatives or additives. The process takes a long time but is really very simple.
Sheep- Brett and I both grew up raising sheep and today have around 100 head of North Country Cheviots, Southdowns, and cross breds. Blake has started his own show flock of Dorsets and Brady has a just begun his flock of Natural Colored sheep with a ram and two ewes. We raise them for both exhibition and meat production.
Cattle- We maintain a small herd of cattle which we show and sell as freezer beef.
Hogs- For years we have helped some family members raise 4-H hogs at our farm and now our kids are showing hogs as well. We raise small group of show hogs from February through August of each year and then sell them for freezer hogs after state fair.
- What is your favorite thing to do with a food crop you grow?
Although I certainly enjoy eating my maple syrup, I think my favorite thing to do is sampling it to other people. So many of us (myself included) grew up on “maple syrup” that you buy in store which isn’t really maple syrup at all. It’s more flavored sugar. Often, when people are offered a sample they are like, sure but are really thinking, “maple syrup is maple syrup”. But pure maple syrup is nothing like what comes in the plastic bottles on the shelves in many stores. It is has a richness and depth of flavor beyond just being sweet. When someone new tries real maple syrup their first response is almost always, “Oh wow.” Because it is so much better than what they are used to thinking of as syrup. I also really like using it to sweeten things in a more healthy way. Instead of refined sugar, I use maple syrup to sweeten my coffee and teas, on toast, and when cooking hams. Maple syrup cookies are phenomenal too.
- What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?
I would love for the general public to know how passionate farmers are about what we do. It is our life’s work. Often in the news you see reports about animals not being cared for properly. There are bad farmers; they do exist. But they are a tiny minority. The farmers I know put their heart and soul and livelihood on the line because they are passionate about producing healthy, safe, and economical food for the world. I can’t count the number of nights spent in a barn nursing a sick animal or waiting for babies to be barn. Dozens of farm orphans have spent their first weeks in my kitchen until they were strong enough to return to the barn. And I am hardly unusual. At this time, there are lots of questions about agricultural production in our country. Some very loud voices who have nothing to do with agriculture are blasting accusations at farmers and ranchers, but these are not the people who can answer your questions. I encourage people who have concerns to talk to the people who are raising their food. If you are concerned about antibiotics in your meat, find a direct sale producer who shares your concerns and buy from them. If you are wondering about GMOs and why we are using them, ask a farmer. Don’t be misled by the talking heads with an agenda of their own. Farmers are working every day to supply the world with safe and healthy food. It’s what we love, and we would love to share that with our consumers.
I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely these cookies turned out. I LOVE oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to begin with and the addition of the maple syrup gave them the perfect amount of sweet and maple flavor.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 3 cups quick cooking oats
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter, shortening, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and vinegar until smooth.
- Add in the eggs. Add the baking soda and flour, beating until well incorporated. Add in the oats and chocolate chips, stir to combine.
- Place the dough in balls (about 1 1/4") onto baking sheets.
- Bake the cookies for 12 - 14 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven, and let them cool on wire rack. Enjoy!
This post is part of my Thirty Days of Food series where I am writing about food and farming for the entire month of November, to find out more about it all or how to follow along, visit my Thirty Days of Food page or click the photo below to find more great recipes with farmer features!