SKOWHEGAN — To make maple candy, James Smith III boils maple syrup in a trough until it reaches 242 degrees Fahrenheit, covered in a layer of yellowy froth. Then he lets it cool down to 210 degrees Fahrenheit, returning to its normal deep brown, smooth complexion.

When it reaches the right temperature, Smith attaches the trough to the candy machine — a small metal machine that looks similar to a meat slicer — careful not to drop it or spill any. Instead of slicing, though, the syrup travels down to a metal tube with a “worm” inside of it — a piece of metal spiral that spins and mixes the syrup, making it creamy.

Once it’s mixed enough, Smith opens the end of the tube to pour the syrup into the candy molds, shaped like little maple leaves. It’s about 200 degrees Fahrenheit by the time it gets poured. In less than five minutes, the syrup is already beginning to lighten in color. When it’s fully set, which doesn’t take long, the candies will be the light tan color everyone knows.

Smith owns Smith Brothers Maple in Skowhegan with his brother, Patrick. They started the business on their own, and they now make about 1,000 to 1,200 gallons of syrup every year.

Somerset County produces the most syrup of any county in the United States. The value of Maine syrup reached $15.5 million in 2015, according to the New England Agriculture Statistics Service.

Smith Brothers Maple was one of three local maple syrup businesses selling at the Skowhegan State Fair.


The others, Luce’s Pure Maple Syrup in Anson and Haulk’s Maple in Madison, appear to have maple syrup in their DNA.

Haulk, who makes maple syrup with his wife, Diane, said they’re the fifth generation to run the business. He remembers making syrup with his grandfather when he was 6 years old.

“It was, ‘Make sure not to spill any, boy!’ back then,” he said, because there was a lot more snow to deal with.

Now both of his daughters help him, as do some of his granddaughters. He hopes that one granddaughter, who’s interested, will take over as the sixth generation when he retires.

For about 10 years, the Haulks have been selling syrup at the Skowhegan State Fair; but this year was different, as they got their own building, called the Maple House. Before, they had only a small space to sell their goods with the other farm products, Haulk said.

“Now we have space to move,” Diane said. Tables were filled to the brim with maple syrup, maple cream, maple candies, maple whoopie pies, pancake mix and samples. Photos and informational pamphlets also were set out around the room, along with the trophy the Haulks won for best maple syrup in the state in 2016. Leader Evaporator Co. Inc. also donated an evaporator, which is a machine used to turn sap into syrup, to be used for demonstrations and explanations at the fair.


Usually they sell about 100 gallons of syrup at the fair, she said, but they’re hoping to do better this year. Annually, they sell about 500 gallons.

Haulk held on to the family business because he likes the feeling of “relaxation” it provides.

Adam Luce, whose father owns the business in Anson, said his family has been making maple syrup since 1795.

“I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember,” he said, “since I could walk.”

This was a record year for the Luces. Normally, they make about 500 to 600 gallons of maple syrup; but thanks to good weather, they were able to get more than 1,100 gallons.

Cold snaps make the season for getting sap shorter, he said. A few years ago, the temperature dropped to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which wasn’t good for business. “It takes a long time for your trees to recuperate from that,” he said.


Luce and his family have been going to the Common Ground Fair for more than 30 years, but this is just their second year in Skowhegan.

His favorite thing about selling at fairs is getting to see people’s expressions when they try his products, as well as talking with returning customers. Another part of why he chose to stay in the family business is the serenity of the work.

“It’s peaceful out in the woods, you know — when you’re out there tapping,” Luce said. “It’s just a sense of pride when you’ve been doing it that long and you’re able to keep doing it.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

Twitter: @madelinestamour

Comments are no longer available on this story