Though making pie for Bethel’s Cafe DiCocoa was always her thing, Anna Sysko’s latest project is her naturally leavened sourdough bread.

Manager of Cafe DiCocoa and keyboardist Anna Sysko plays traditional Quebecois with fiddlers Paul Cormier and Jeanine Loubier in a band Fleur de Lis. Also an entrepreneur, she makes and sells Smoke Bomb Hot Sauce with Eric List. Sysko, her 12-year-old daughter, her father Jim, and her sister Mandy and her family live on the family homestead in Newry. Her brother Dustin lives in British Columbia. Her mother Gail lives in Bethel. 
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I was raised in Newry on a beautiful mountain plateau on the shoulder of Puzzle Mountain where my father and mother created a homestead. We did all sorts of imaginary woods play with my grandmother and my sister and also a lot of swimming. I still think it was the most idyllic place to have grown up.
My Nana was a lover of nature and all things about the outside world. She and my grandfather lived next door. She would swim across the pond every day and collect mushrooms and driftwood. She was a real-life woodlands sprite.
My grandfather had a huge breadth of knowledge of history and national landmarks. He loved the dictionary game. Though a little bit more homebound, he made sure we got together with our extended family.
My father has always been a self-employed civil engineer. He provided hydroelectricity for our house by building a dam and a couple hydroelectric generators. He loves building bridges and zip lines and designing eccentric, but practical buildings.
My mom had the incredible job of raising my brother, my sister and me at home. She raised sheep and kept a garden, which later inspired me to do the same. She has also always been a baker.
I must have been 8 when she taught me to make pie on the kitchen table I now eat at every day. I remember her rolling the dough, and that she never measured. She showed me how to do it by eye. After that, baking was always something I did.
Growing up, my three best friends and I were either reading, playing outside or baking. We had some odd recipe failures like the icing on the petit fours we made for our piano recital. It was grainy, but we served them anyway.
Before I started working at DiCocoa’s Cafe, my grandmother and I would come in for cappuccino. It seemed like such a worldly drink to have in Bethel, Maine. I wanted to learn how to make it, and the bread, muffins, and scones they sold.
I started there when I was 14. I remember walking in the door that first day. I did not know much about that world. It was confusing and exciting at the same time.
Eventually, I gained more confidence in the kitchen. I worked summers and vacations and began to know that common sense is not common until you learn it.
Like baking, music has always been in my back pocket. When I was 6 years old, my mom drove me to South Paris where I studied theory, tempo and how to read charts from an incredible teacher named Dale Churchill. I then studied with a woman named Pat and then a woman named Ruth Silver, who I really liked. Many of my friends also took piano from Ruth. She had these big recitals with extravagant receptions, which meant we could bake. I studied jazz in high school again with Dale Churchill.
Four days after I graduated from high school, my sister and I moved to Boulder. My brother was living there. My sister stayed a month but then went back to engineering school. I stayed for the whole year.
A cafe just down the street from my tiny apartment needed a baker. I got the job for $6 an hour. I woke up to sunlight on the Flatiron Mountains every morning and then walked to the cafe. I often talked with an old-timer who liked his apple pie served with cheddar cheese.
I planned to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston after my gap year was over. Instead, I went to the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) which had a new Media Program to learn audio engineering and production. After a year, I got an unpaid yearlong internship in Blue Hill. I wanted to learn on the job.
The internship led to my being hired as a live-sound engineer for the band Inanna. My biggest moment was managing the soundboard at Merrill Auditorium. That was exciting.
I was about 21 when my partner and I moved to Michigan. We spent three years there. I worked for a natural food store. I started baking bread for them. They gave me free rein to make whatever bread I wanted to.
I wrote a recipe book so they could keep making bread when I was gone. I also sold copies to fund our cross-country road trip home. I like to say we went the wrong way back, but we saw some beautiful places.
We moved to the land I grew up on to grow a garden and farm.  A year later we had a daughter. It was pretty isolating up there with one car and a phone that did not always work, so we moved to Norway.
After my daughter was old enough, I baked at Cafe Nomad for a short while. Then, I decided that I did not know how to raise a daughter in such a busy place. I decided to go back to what was true to my heart and familiar to my body: my home in the mountains.
I planned to go full-on into farming. My father built me a beautiful glass greenhouse. I eventually realized I did not know enough.
I came back to DiCocoa’s in 2010. I now work with an incredibly talented and motivated team of bakers, cooks, and baristas. We all get to play a big part in this wonderful community hub.
I have so many kind people in my life. I live in the home I grew up in, with my dad next door, I work with my mom in the cafe kitchen, and I do music. My daughter gets to see how everything is done. Twenty-five years later, I feel grateful to be where I am.


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