With Valentine’s Day around the corner, heart-shaped tins filled with smooth, creamy truffles and assorted chocolates may be getting all the attention, but don’t forget about another sweet and sugary treat: non-chocolate candies.
Like the fruitcake of the Christmas season, chewy gummies and hard candies often get passed over for more decadent desserts. But non-chocolate candy has come a long way since its 17th-century English ancestors of boiled sugar plums and sweetmeats, and some candy shops around New Hampshire are trying to shine a spotlight on their colorful chocolate-free candy offerings.
Sweet Lollipop Shop, based in Farmington, is one such operation. The shop’s owner and candy maker, Louise Ferrari, has specialized in crystal barley hard candy lollipops for the past five years. Ferrari took up candy-making after a chronic health condition kept her from being able to work a traditional office job. She started out making chocolates but soon shifted to hard candy.
“I thought I’d much rather do something from back home,” said Ferrari, who is from the United Kingdom. “I started making [regular] hard candy and then switched to barley candy,” a traditional style of hard candy that originated in the U.K. in the 17th century.
Ferrari says barley candy tastes a lot like regular hard candy but is much harder.
“The texture is pretty similar,” she said. “The taste difference is subtle, but older people who used to have it when they were kids swear they can tell the difference. We get so many requests for it. It’s supposed to have a lot of soothing properties to it,” such as easing stomachaches, sore throats, and car and morning sickness.
Her barley candy offerings, which contain no nuts, wheat or sodium, include lollipops, jeweled candy bites and sugar candy drops in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors, from lemon and cherry to cheesecake and maple. Two-ounce bags of barley drops are around $6, and lollipops are $1 to $3 each.
Ferrari’s custom order candies have included everything from birthday lollipops with sugar sprinkles to eggnog-flavored lollipops for the holidays. For Valentine’s Day, Ferrari is selling mystery boxes ($8.95) and heart-, “kiss me” lips- and other Valentine’s Day-themed lollipops at a reduced price.
Candy-making is a two-day process for Ferrari. It begins with making barley water, which involves boiling barley in water and straining the liquid, and preparing the candy molds and ingredients. Next comes cooking the candy syrup to the correct temperature, flavoring it and coloring it as desired, and pouring the mixture into the molds. The final steps are letting the mixture set, racking the molds, and packaging, Ferrari explained.
She makes everything from her home, a restored grist mill in Farmington. Her kitchen cabinets are double-stacked to accommodate all her supplies, ingredients and creations. Though she does not have a storefront, Ferrari is licensed in New Hampshire and has received food certificate training. She sells her sweets online (sweetlollipopshop.com and etsy.com/shop/sweetlollipopshop) and plans to open a store in April.
“I think my favorite part is people’s reactions,” Ferrari said. “My Etsy store is like a feedback system. I love reading [comments saying the candy] was way better than expected. It’s nice when you get customers that come back.”
Weirs Beach’s Kellerhaus, which specializes in handmade chocolates, candies and ice cream, also offers a variety of non-chocolate hard and soft candies. The shop, which is celebrating its 106th birthday this year, features a candy smorgasbord of 70 jars, which contain satellite wafers, Pop Rocks, Swedish fish, fruit slices, conversation hearts, gummy animals, cinnamon hearts and more.
For Valentine’s Day, in addition to its traditional solid chocolate hearts and pre-made boxes of assorted chocolates, the shop is offering make-your-own heart boxes, which can be filled with any of the shop’s offerings, including cherry gummy hearts.
“Valentine’s Day is not as busy as say, Easter or Christmas, but it’s pretty busy,” said Leia Fabian, who has worked in Kellerhaus’s candy room for the past eight years. “We make all of our candy here in our old kettle pots with old-fashioned recipes. We hand-drop most of our candies.”
If you’re up for making your own hard candy, Eaton’s Cake & Candy Supplies of Hooksett has everything you’ll need. The shop sells hard candy molds, flavorings, lollipop sticks and cellophane bags, candy thermometers and more.
“A lot of moms will make [hard candy lollipops] with or for their kids to bring to school,” said Linda Ducharme, who co-owns Eaton’s with Barbara Thornton. “Hard candy molds are different than chocolate molds. Hard candy molds are made to withstand high heat; the hot candy syrup would melt a chocolate mold.”
Ducharme recommends using a candy thermometer to make sure the syrup is heated to 290 to 300 degrees so that it will later harden. She also advises stirring in your flavoring after boiling the syrup; otherwise the flavor will be boiled out of the mixture. After thorough stirring, the syrup is ready to be poured into your hard candy greased molds, she said: “It has to be poured out all at once; there is no second chance.” The syrup can sit in the molds for a couple of hours or can be left overnight and popped out the next day. (See box for Ducharme’s complete candy lollipop recipe.)
Like Kellerhaus, Eaton’s is offering a fill-your-own heart-shaped candy box for Valentine’s Day.
“Any heart-shaped box and any candy in a heart-shaped box make a statement,” said Ducharme, who has co-owned Eaton’s for 32 years. “Because it’s something you wouldn’t buy for yourself.”