I've blogged several times about Purity Candy, near Allenwood, Pennsylvania. Their chocolates are delicious and there's the added bonus of seeing them being made via three windows in the back of the retail space.
During one visit several years ago, one of the employees informed me that Purity makes candy canes by hand; production begins after Thanksgiving.
This sounded fun to me, so I hoped that someday I'd get to see this in person. (hey, you have your "bucket list" items, I'll have mine!). That "someday" became a reality on December 16th, as our schedules worked out for a trip to Purity then.
We drove over to Purity's operations from our hotel in Williamsport. This is what greeted us as we approached the building:
Like movie showings, the candy cane "showings" were at 10, 12 and 2.
We were used to visiting Purity during times of relative quiet, with plenty of space to walk around the retail store and view whatever candy making was going on that day. Not so on this day: the store was packed, with young children clustered close to the one viewing window where the candy canes were going to be produced. And directly behind these kids were the adults who'd brought their kids there, leaving no room for anyone else to get a glimpse of the operation.
I would have been disappointed if we'd come all this way and not be able to see anything happening, but fear not, Purity had set up two large monitors for watching the event unfold. An employee stood near the kids and narrated the action for the gathered crowd.
Above, as seen in the monitor, an employee has just finished coloring a portion of the batch red; the part that would remain white is in the background. A 25-pound batch of the candy mixture had been made.
And now the green portion has been made.
Toward the end of the "showing", the kids and the adults with them left the store, so I had a chance to go over to the viewing window and get pics of the shaping process. So I'll skip ahead to show off the better-quality photos I got then:
The red and green portions had been added to the white. So now the colors are all together, but it just looks like a fat blob at this point.
The employee rolled that fat blob into a much skinnier length, which you can see in the lower right hand of the photo. Mounted on the wall behind him is a 35-pound candy cane!
After rolling out the mixture into that desired diameter, the employee cut off stick-like lengths and put them on another table for shaping. Note the several raised sections on the table - the "sticks" are held against these sections to keep them straight while the curved part is formed.
The shaping continued on and on. As you can imagine, it takes awhile to use up a 25-pound batch of candy cane mixture!
It's possible that I might have missed the use of a scale for measuring, but I don't think so. So the employee merely eyeballed the amounts of the mixture to remove to create the portions that would be colored red or green. And it appeared that similar eyeballing was done when cutting the "stick" lengths that would become the actual candy canes.
Of course, these steps were done by someone with a practiced eye, but I still enjoyed the low-tech nature of the process. I'm sure at some big candy cane plant everything is pre-measured to the nth degree - no irregularities allowed!
So why were the kids who'd been present no longer at the viewing window? They had already completed the last portion of the "showing", during which a Purity employee set up two card tables. Then the kids took turns gathering around the tables, receiving a small "stick" of their own, and shaping their very own candy cane. For packaging, Purity also supplied small plastic bags and stickers for closing the bags.
Happily, after the kids were done with their efforts, kids at heart got their chance at making candy canes too! Several adults participated, yours truly included. The candy cane mixture was still slightly warm, making it easy to shape:
Ta-da, my very own hand-shaped candy cane! It tasted very good, by the way. I think it had a cleaner taste than the mass-produced ones do.
(Purity also makes larger candy canes in a variety of flavors, but I'm a purist who prefers peppermint).
Candy canes weren't the only star of the Purity show that day though:
Large Santas and Christmas trees had been created, and pretzel rods moved along on a conveyor belt toward their chocolate coating. (a short while later, bagfuls of these pretzels whose coatings were less than perfect showed up in the "bargain basket" near the cash register).
The making of the chocolate-covered pretzels was noteworthy since it was a Saturday, a day in which the production lines are usually idle.
We also noted that Purity was staying open until 5:00 this day, and would also be open for business the next day. Typically the store is only open until 3 on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays.
The extended production and business hours highlighted how busy the Purity folks are on the days leading up to Christmas, so I really appreciated that they take the time to welcome people to their candy cane "showings". Even as crowded as the store was this day, I was glad we'd made the long drive from Michigan to see candy canes being made!