Kate McCabe’s love for maple sugaring began when she was a child growing up in New Hampshire.
Her neighbors were hobby sugarmakers in the town of Moultonborough near Lake Winnipesaukee. Whenever the steam was billowing from the sugarhouse, nine-year-old Kate would walk over after school for a Dixie cup of syrup. On weekends, her family would visit the sugarhouse to pass the time.
“We would go to the sugarhouse and kind of keep vigil. Boiling sap takes a long time, so it would be nice to be at the sugarhouse and have people to chat with,” she says. “It was warm in there, and it smelled good.”
Those memories are partly the inspiration behind the Vermont Evaporator Company, which Kate and her husband, Justin McCabe, started in 2015. The Montpelier-based company produces backyard evaporators for making maple syrup. Its flagship product is the Sapling Evaporator, a wood-fired family size evaporator that doubles as a grill for outdoor cooking.
The idea for creating a backyard evaporator came about when the McCabes tapped trees on their property in Montpelier. To boil the sap collected from maple trees along their driveway, they experimented with various contraptions, including a Thanksgiving turkey broiling pan on their propane grill.
Eventually, the couple figured their best bet was to purchase a backyard sap evaporator so they could boil sap on weekends more efficiently. But they struggled to find one that didn’t cost too much, didn’t need to operate in a sap house, and could be moved around when not in use. So, Justin—a patent attorney with an engineering degree, who is, as Kate describes him, a “serial hobbyist”—invented one. And with that, the Vermont Evaporator Company was born.
A Life Worth Living in Vermont
The McCabes moved to Vermont from Washington, D.C. in 2006, first living in West Corinth while Justin earned his law degree from Vermont Law School. The couple eventually settled in Montpelier, where they were raising two young kids and working full time—Justin at a law firm in Burlington and Kate at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. They were also building and selling maple syrup evaporators in their spare time.
After Kate left the Attorney General’s Office and was looking for a new job in non-profit management, the McCabes’ side gig at Vermont Evaporator started to take off and ballooned into a full-time endeavor.
“I raised money, got bank loans, and figured out a lot of stuff that I never thought I would have to learn, like how to drive a forklift and how to use power tools,” she says. “I’m the CEO of the company and handle everything from assembling and shipping to marketing and finance. This job means doing what’s outside of what I’ve been trained to do. But I’ve always liked learning things just by being thrown into the fire.”
Over the past four years, Vermont Evaporator has sold the Sapling Evaporator, as well as evaporator pans, grill grates, pan lids, and other accessories, to customers from British Columbia and Quebec to North Carolina and Tennessee.
Kate can’t imagine living or working anywhere else.
“I have a good friend in Washington, D.C., who complains that when she goes to parties, everyone acts like they have their resumes stapled to their foreheads. But here in Vermont, you go to parties and the topic of conversation is about comparing cordwood or what’s growing in the garden,” she says. “Vermont is the only place in this country I’ve been where people are not preoccupied with acquiring things. That is just not the focus of life here. People don’t take themselves too seriously, and it’s a place that allows you to be yourself.”
Learn more about Vermont Evaporator Company
-Vermont Evaporator Company is donating 5% of November sales to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts to support their fight for land sovereignty. In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, the company wants to raise awareness and attribute maple to its inventors/discoverers: native peoples.
–Happy Vermonters is a series of profiles highlighting life in Vermont.