Sam Webber’s sugar house in Hallowell produces about 25 gallons of syrup from 125 taps on his property in Hallowell. Photo courtesy of Sam Webber

MOUNT VERNON — Rayma Jacobs is 69 and has collected maple sap for about 30 years, a hobby she began with her father, Milton Hall.

“When we had a farm, he had four maple trees and he’d do it for us kids,” she said. “We didn’t do it for years and years, and one day he decided that we should tap some trees. It’s not much of an operation.”

Jacobs, who has 60 taps in Mount Vernon, describes herself as “an outdoor girl.”

“I like doing it,” she said.

Last week, Jacobs began collecting sap. She is one of many producers in Maine preparing for the production of one of Maine’s best-known products: Luxurious, sweet maple syrup.

While larger producers often have sizable sugar houses and intricate tubing setups throughout a forest of maple trees, a number of central Mainers, like Jacobs, will collect sap by hand to produce smaller quantities for themselves, family and friends.

Her setup is fairly modest: Jacobs still uses an old wood stove, built by her father, with the top cut off so it can hold a stainless steel pan. After the sap is given a long boil there, Jacobs takes what is left and uses an electric burner to finish it.

She said if she let the syrup go too long on the wood stove, some would burn onto the pan.

She said she produces 10 to 15 gallons a year, most of which goes to family or friends as holiday gifts.

Rayma Jacobs hauls a sled full of sap buckets down a dirt road Feb. 23 near her home in Mt. Vernon. Jacobs said she has been tapping and evaporating sap from maples since she was child making syrup with her father, Milton Hall. Jacobs said the sap should be running in earnest by the end of this week. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“It’s hard to go back to Aunt Jemima,” she said. “I go through all this work and I maybe eat two quarts a year.”

Maple sap is clear, slightly sweet and has the consistency of water when it comes out of the tree. The taste develops after plenty of boiling, which turns the sap into varying shades of amber.

Sam Webber of Hallowell runs a small, state-licensed sugarhouse, Two Sams Maple Syrup, with his son, the other Sam. He said he has 125 taps on his property that produce about 1,200 gallons of sap throughout the season. All that sap, he said, makes about 26 gallons of maple syrup.

Webber, who started tapping trees in Whitefield in 1966, said he hoped to start tapping his trees in Hallowell next week. He said fluctuating temperatures this year have not been optimal for maple production, with abnormally cold and warm days coming regularly. Webber said optimal maple sap gathering conditions begin with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees and nighttime temperatures below freezing.

He said more than 70 gallons of sap can be collected from his trees daily in good weather. Webber’s sugarhouse, which houses an evaporator built by his son, evaporates about 15 gallons of sap an hour.

Sam Webber explains the homemade evaporator in his sugarhouse in Hallowell on Saturday. His sugarhouse, which used to be open to the public, is now open only to family and friends. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

His small operation used to be a member of the Maine Maple Producers Association, but a large number of guests for Maine Maple Sunday, set for March 22 this year, inundated the small operation and Webber withdrew from the association. Webber said his sugarbush is open to friends on Maine Maple Sunday, but not to the public.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released uniform standards for maple syrup, distinguishing four colors classes, from lightest to darkest, and more delicate flavor to strong flavor. The colors are golden, amber, dark and very dark.

Webber’s syrup usually varies between amber and dark and it can be used in a number of recipes outside of pancakes and ice cream toppings. He said his wife uses it to bake bread, glaze carrots and prepare salad dressing.

“People say it’s an exceptional taste and it’s dark amber,” Webber said. “It’s really good stuff. All we have left from last year is one quart.”

Scott Dunn, owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton and president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said there is no data on the number of small, hobbyist producers in Maine. The association has 450 licensed producers, ranging from 25 taps to thousands.

“There’s more backyard producers that do it for friends and family then we can estimate,” Dunn said. “I think everyone knows someone that has 10 taps in their backyard.”

Dunn said the association offers classes for hobbyist maple syrup producers to ensure that the maple syrup they produce is of the highest quality, even though they may not fall under the same regulations as larger, state-licensed producers.

He said the state’s largest producer is the LaRiviere sugarbush in Big Six Township near the Quebec border, with 82,000 taps.

Dunn said there are a little less than 2 million taps in Maine, with 1.9 million being in Somerset County. In 2018, Maine produced 539,000 gallons of syrup with a net value of $29.3 million.

Maine is the third-largest maple syrup producer in the country, Dunn said, behind Vermont and New York.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.