This past spring when we went to the Candy Expo in Chicago, Randy talked to one of the Hammond representatives who suggested we come out and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the candy factory. The factory has relocated a couple of times during its history but they still make candy the old-fashioned way and most of their machines are from the late 1800s. To start one batch of candy they mix enough corn syrup and sugar to make 77 pounds. This is cooked and split into separate sections that will be colored individually. For example, to make candy canes, about 2/3 of the mix is colored dark red (for the center) and the rest is split into 2 chunks, one colored dark red and the other not colored. The two small chunks are individually put on pulling machines. The machine has prongs on 2 separate wheels that catch and pull the candy, like taffy. The candy that is not colored turns pure white as air is mixed into it, and the other one turns from dark red to a shiny cherry-red. To get it off the pulling machine, the candy maker smacks the candy that is on the prongs with a hammer and because the metal is cooler than the candy, the candy breaks off at that point, even though the candy is still soft.
The cherry-red candy is then put on a worktable that has a row of burners on the far edge. Those burners keep the candy at 220 degrees while it is being worked. The candy maker works the chunk until it forms two 24” by 8” rectangles. Randy helped the guy who was making a batch of this, and it’s really hard work! The candy is very heavy and hot and requires a lot of work to form, but it needs to be worked somewhat gently, plus the candy maker has to be careful not to work it too much. And all this work takes place near those burners, so it’s hot work, too. The white candy is worked the same way, except that it is formed into two 24” by 4” rectangles. Then the white rectangles are put next to the red ones, alternating. This forms a striped “jacket” to go around the center of the candy cane. Randy was really pretty good at this, even though he’d never done it before.
The large chunk of dark red candy is destined to be the center. It is also put on the pulling machine, but just long enough for Randy to pour a cup of cherry flavoring on it, to be worked into it. The center of a candy cane is where most of the flavor it.
Randy helped put the candy jacket around the candy center, then they lifted the whole thing (77 pounds) and put it into another machine, into a long tray that turns. As tray turns, the candy maker starts pulling the candy out towards the end of the tray, rolling it into a smaller and smaller strand. When it is the right thickness for a candy cane, another person cuts pieces off with shears and scoots them along a tabletop to the next person. That person pulls the end of the piece into a hook shape, and the candy cane is complete. Randy cut the candy and we both tried to shape canes. It’s harder than it looks, to get it the right thickness, the right length, and the right shape.
They make the colors of the candy cane jackets different for each flavor, so an experienced candy maker can tell at a glance what a candy cane’s flavor is. For example, cherry candy canes have one white stripe between larger red stripes, while cranberry candy canes have two white stripes with a green strip between them, between the larger red stripes.
Another section in the candy factory makes candy apples – small white centers (a little larger than a golf ball) with red candy wrapped around it, and a wooden stick pushed in while the candy is still soft. Randy and I wrapped some of those, too. They do look like small candy apples, but I don’t know how anyone eats a solid chunk of candy like that!
When we were done with the tour, they gave us all of the candy we made (they could hardly sell it!) plus a large bag of broken candy, as well as some samples of other kinds of candy such as peppermint sticks with chocolate centers and marshmallows covered in caramel. They also gave us a sample of hiker’s fudge – dark chocolate fudge wrapped in wax. The idea is that wax keeps the chocolate from melting, so the hiker can just peel off some wax, have a bite of fudge, and cover the rest back up. I suppose some folks eat one bite of fudge, but it seems unnecessary to me…just eat the whole thing, and then you don’t have to worry about re-wrapping it!
We had lunch at Sam’s 3 in Denver, which was recommended by Food Network – roasted chicken with 2 sides. Then we walked around Denver a bit. We found the 16th Street mall, which is 16th street blocked off from traffic for several blocks to form a walking area with stores on both sides.
Back at the RV park we took the dogs for a walk up the road to a Buffalo ranch and pet a buffalo calf thru the fence. We found elk tracks along the road, quit close to the RV park – the tracks were bigger than the palm of my hand. Afterwards we worked on getting the TV and PC hooked up, but that isn’t working right. So we had dinner and watched a couple of movies.