When Adam Goss bought Maple City Candy from the Metayer family in 2021 as an investment for his growing family, he called his aunt, Heather Tanner, and asked her to manage the business. He knew she’d be perfect for the job. She agreed, and this small but exceptional local enterprise passed from Vermont one family to another.
The Metayers maintained and grew Maple City Candy for over twenty years, starting by purchasing the business in St. Albans in the early aughts and then relocating it to its current location in Swanton shortly before the pandemic hit. A couple of years after that move, they were ready to sell. When Adam began eyeing the building in which it resides (it takes up about a third of the entire location), he had no intention of becoming a confectioner. But maple flows in Adam’s blood. His great-grandparents (Heather’s grandparents) sugared on their property, and he has memories of helping them gather sap on a horse-drawn carriage in the snow. Heather also remembers those days. As a little girl, she’d help her grandmother make maple candy in their home kitchen and started learning the tricks of what would become her trade. In fact, the family has been in Franklin County, Vermont, since the early 1800s, and all three of her siblings still do maple sugaring on their own properties.
Before partnering with her nephew Adam, Heather worked at Butternut Mountain Farm, which, unlike Maple City, is one of the largest maple processors and distributors in the U.S. At Butternut, she canned syrup, made candy, and supervised a small crew. But at Maple City, because it’s such a small operation, she’s responsible for so much more. She makes the candy, manages the whole staff, sells to stores, collects payments, among many other things. She even created new packaging designs, which have elevated the look of their products to match the quality of the candies themselves. And she’s continued to learn about candy making. Between her childhood experience, her work at Butternut, and the training the Metayers gave her before they left, she was already an expert, but even now, she’s still learning. The more she does it, the more her knowledge and skills grow.
Maple candy can only be as good as the syrup it’s made from. Maple City has recently partnered with an independent sugarer who is certified organic and uses wood fire to boil the sap. He provides them with the perfect raw material to make maple candies. The best syrup for their ends is the lighter variety — what used to be called “fancy” in the older maple grading system and is now labeled as Golden. This syrup is made from sap collected earlier in the season when it first starts running through the veins of the maple trees after being frozen in winter. It has a lower sugar content than the sap collected later in the year, which produces Amber, Dark, and Very Dark syrups. As practitioners of the rare craft of maple candy making, Heather and Craig, Maple City’s official chief candymaker, have a refined appreciation of high-quality materials, and they are both very enthusiastic about their new syrup provider. Heather and Craig also both hold the controversial opinion that wood-fired syrup is the best syrup. It lends the syrup a special something they can’t quite specify, but whatever it is, it takes it to another level.
Once the syrup is procured, it’s heated in a piece of equipment called a pig (it really does look like a little piggy, with the snout being where the heated syrup pours from!). In the pig, it’s boiled to a specific temperature and cooled down to a certain temperature, all while being stirred. Then it’s “tipped” — the pig is literally tipped up, snout down, for easy pouring into the candy molds. After setting for somewhere between 60 to 90 minutes, they’re popped out of the molds, dried for a bit, and then submersed in the “soaking syrup,” which is simply cool maple syrup, and left overnight. This last step is to prevent white crystals from forming on the outside of the candies. The molds they use were inherited from the Metayers, who amassed a collection of beautiful, unusual, sometimes whacky shapes ranging from maple leaves to frogs, screaming ghosts, and full-feathered turkeys.
As Craig says, syrup can be sensitive. The candy-making process is affected by the weather, humidity, elevation, temperature… anything that might impact the size and speed at which the sugar crystals form. The goal is to have a creamy, smooth consistency without graininess, and for them to set well so they unmold cleanly and easily, which means the fine detail in the beautiful shapes they make will be preserved. In Heather’s grandmother’s day, it was common knowledge that you should never attempt to make maple candy when it’s raining. The pros at Maple City don’t have the luxury of being able to choose when to make candy based on the weather, so part of their skill set includes making the candy work no matter what’s going on outside.
Their other maple products (maple cream, maple popcorn, maple fudge, maple sugar, hard maple candies, and maple-covered nuts) are all, of course, maple-based, but with variations in some additional ingredients and cook times. Maple cream is almost identical to the maple candy, for instance, except that the heating and cooling times and temps are different. Darker grades of syrup are used for their other maple products because the stronger flavor and darker color are desirable qualities in those items, and they’re less finicky in achieving a perfect set and consistency.
In addition to Heather and Craig, Maple City employs a few part-time employees, some of whom are temporarily brought on board for the holiday rush. They work hard in the fall and early winter to get orders filled and shipped in time for leaf peepers, holiday tables, and Christmas stockings. Maple City has grown a lot since the purchase from the Metayers — they initiated online sales through their website, and Heather has reached out to numerous stores, wholesalers, and distributors. This is all new territory for Heather, who, being close to what many would consider retirement age, is more accustomed to picking up the phone and making a call rather than booting up a computer. Jess, one of the younger staffers, helps her navigate the digital seas.
Heather and Craig enjoy their jobs producing maple candy. In the past, they both worked for almost twenty years as managers at large grocery chain stores. In fact, Heather poached Craig from his supermarket job when she took on her current role. According to Craig, maple has become a passion for him, and he’s seen how sugaring and syrup-related arts can become an obsession for those involved with them. Like anything, the more you learn about maple syrup, the more fascinating it becomes. Its direct connection to the natural world, the forests that surround us in this beautiful state, and the history and traditions of this place, not to mention the nuances of its flavor and workability, make it especially intoxicating for those who engage with it.
Maple City Candy has a wonderful shop way up in Swanton where they carry other Vermont goods and, when it’s in season, they operate an excellent creemee stand. But their vision is much more expansive than that. As Adam says, “We are proud to own Maple City Candy, and we are driven to promote Vermont maple syrup and its products around the world.” Look for these special products in the Sweet On Vermont endcap display in our Brattleboro Food Co-op.
By Ruth Garbus