Maple Grove Farms: Over 90 Years of Vermont-Made Excellence

Publish Notes: 

Taste Of New England Keene, NH 2003

Maple Grove Farms: Over 90 Years of Vermont-Made Excellence
Maple Grove Farms: Over 90 Years of Vermont-Made Excellence

ST. JOHNSBURY, VT. - The rich heritage of Maple Grove Farms is traced back to St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 1915 by a true visionary named Kathrine "Helen" Gray. Helen had begun experimenting with maple sugar in her farm house kitchen with the inspiration of her daughter being a home economics major at Columbia University at the time. Helen coaxed her friend Ethel McLaren into the project and before long they had developed quite a delicious little maple candy.

Photos courtesy of Maple Grove Farm

"We experimented all summer," Helen told The Vermonter Magazine way back in 1927. "By experimenting we made up our own recipes, and when it was rumored that the girls were making candy to sell-we had our first customer."

As the maple candy caught on and the demand grew, the Gray's expanded their kitchen twice in four years and it was realized that if the business was to flourish, a larger kitchen facility would be needed. So the family purchased the Governor Fairbanks mansion in St. Johnsbury in 1920. It would turn out to be the perfect setting to lay down the foundation for the thriving business to come.

Along with the major investment involved in this move came the need for change and expansion. What started out as two friends having fun and experimenting with candy recipes was now a full scale operation with a large overhead requiring the creation of new revenue-creating opportunities, as well as a marketing plan.

With this came the opening of the Maple Grove Tea Room, and eventually the Maple Grove Inn. A few spacious second floor rooms in the front of the farmhouse were converted into guest rooms, with the front entrance used as a waiting area and dining room. Later a guest house was added alondside the main entrance, and the back of the house was remodeled proper lighting and ventilation for the maple candy products.

However the diversity didn't stop there, many additional flavors were added to the Maple Grove Farm product line including the manufacturing of maple syrup, sugars and creams, and eventually over seventy varieties of chocolate. Because of all the new products and their demand, an additional supply storage area was needed.

A plant in Essex Junction formally owned by the Vermont Farmers Co-Operative was purchased where all the maple syrup products were reconditioned. This facility, where farmers sold their syrup directly to the plant, became its own separate entity from Maple Grove Candies and was dubbed Maple Grove Products Of Vermont.

With this additional growth came the need to expand the market of Maple Grove Farm beyond their present local Vermont area. "In order to get a better market for the candies and maple products we opened a restaurant and sales room in New York City," Kathrine told Vermonter Magazine in the early days. "It all has meant a continual branching out. Some of the things we have gone into are only because we were forced into doing them."

During the winter months when the Vermont roads are much less traveled,the copper kettles of the Maple Grove Farm kitchens began producing tons of pure Vermont made mince meat ,with barrels of fresh apples and meat, sweet raisins and spices, and pure maple sugar. The mince meat was shipped all over the United States and the world. The plant's storerooms were now filled with a countless supply of mince meat-filled tubs, and a variety of maple products and candies ready to be shipped 24 hours a day.

The business had now grown by such leaps and bounds that it took quite an executive ability for Mrs. Gray to maintain such a diverse company, as well as maintaining a family and household. She drew great respect from the community and became recognized as a vitally important figure in the growth of Vermont's economic development.

Over time Maple Grove Farm branched out again and began producing salad dressing and marinade. "Around 1980 someone was digging in the archive and found a recipe for sweet and sour dressing and a marinade using maple syrup," Vice President Steve Jones said in a recent interview.

"Apparently it was made once a year and sold at the Maple Grove gift shop.We made a batch and it tasted great, so we sold some to a local grocery store." Eventually the word got around about Maple Grove's dressing and marinade, and now major New England grocery chains were interested in carrying this new product line. It was at that point Maple Grove decided to get into producing the dressing and marinade full time.

"Since we were experts at bottling maple syrup, it was a natural progression to bottle salad dressing. Our next dressing was honey mustard, which was the first ever produced of that flavor," Jones said. "In the 90's this enabled Maple Grove to keep busy all year, and the demand has grown to the point of year-round production.

"We are now the largest seller of specialty dressings in the United States with product in all major U.S. supermarkets, as well as Mexico and Canada. Just a few of these delicious dressings include honey mustard, parmesan and cracked pepper, sun-dried tomato with roasted garlic, and classic caesar. Some of their Vermont gourmet marinades include a sweet 'n' sour grilling sauce, honey mustard and fat-free teriyaki marinades and lemon pepper and mesquite cooking sauces.

Today Maple Grove Farm is also the largest packer of Pure Maple Syrup in the U.S. and the largest manufacturer of maple candies in the world. The maple candies, confections, and drops are made only from pure maple syrup that is produced right at their on site confectionery kitchen and are a fat-free delight. Some tasty treats to satisfy anyone's sweet tooth include a homemade maple cream, honey maple butter and spreads, crystalized natural honey and all natural syrups, preserves and even peanut butter.

A few Maple Grove Farm deserts and snacks include maple walnut fudge, plum pudding, a maple crunch with nuts, and biscotti and maple cream cookie tins. They also offer many gift idea packages which are featured on the Maple Grove Farm web site including assorted holiday gift baskets, pancake, waffle and muffin mixes, dessert toppings and snacks, gourmet meats and cheeses and corporate gift ideas.

Maple Grove's world-famous Vermont made cheeses are made with rich, high protein
milk from the local hillside farms, and each handmade block or wheel is individually pressed, aged and waxed with the highest standards. Maple Grove Farm also creates mouth-watering gourmet meats including sliced maple bacon, smoked bone-in turkey breast and smoked sausage links and boneless smoked hams.

They have also recently introduced a full line of Organic products under the brand name Country Organics Of Vermont, including organic pure maple syrup, organic pancake and baking mixes, organic dressings and marinades,and maple flavored oatmeal. "Organic products represent the fastest growing segment of the food industry," Jones said. "Maple Grove Farm is uniquely poised to enter this category because of our Vermont roots which emphasize all natural, top quality products with production methods that respect our natural heritage."

For over 90 years Maple Grove Farm has been consistently producing some of the finest Vermont made specialty food products and has created a stellar reputation within the Vermont food sector. They were recently awarded a "Superior Rating" by the American Institute of Baking, which is the leading international agency for certifying food related manufacturing plants for quality and safety. You can also visit their authentic Maple Museum in St. Johnsbury, or to get more information visit them online at