Candy makers indulge generations with kindness and confections

By Ashley Scheiller It is past 9:00 a.m. Cursing under my breath, I knew I should have left earlier. Although that road detour was unexpected on the scenic highway, they are farther out then I originally thought. The car, it seems, is going slower, just to irritate me now, as it makes its way around a corner. Jon, my boyfriend, breaks my concentration on repeating the “I’m so late” mantra in my head, with the exclamation, “Oh look, Ash, there it is!”

As the car coasts to a stop, there is the soft crunch of loose gravel under the tires. The small building has the makings of an old country story, painted in pure white with crisp red trim that smartly matches the color of their pink lady apples. In the freshly cleaned windows, the reflection from the lake and the sky cause a shiver of anticipation as we walk up the stairs of the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen.

At the door, a woman dressed in blue jeans and a blue plaid shirt and a brown taupe-colored newsboy cap greets us with a knowing smile.

“Hello, I’m Patricia,” she says.

A quick exchange of introductions, along with a hasty apology about being late on my part, and we are whisked into the store. A quick glance around is enough to make me giddy. The candy counter is stocked full with over 20 different kinds of chocolates. Brightly colored canvases hang around the store, adding that extra pop of brightness as the sun breaks through the haze of clouds, bathing the store in a wonderful glow.

“Follow Dennis, he will bring you back to the kitchen,” says Patricia Canelake, effectively snapping me back to reality.

Dennis Matson is the co-owner of Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen along with his wife Pamela Matson. He is a taller man, and is also sporting a flannel shirt and blue jeans along with a crisp white cap that hides his mess of blond hair.

He quickly winds his way through the tiny kitchen into the corner that is emitting the sweet, mouth-watering smell of caramel. In front of a very large copper kettle that sits upon an open gas flame, Pamela stands slightly hunched over, concentrating on stirring the molten, golden-brown liquid that is in the process of becoming freshly-made caramel.

Pamela seems to be in her own world. As Dennis announces our arrival, she looks up and smiles. She too is adorned in a flannel top, blue jeans, a cap and a bright blue apron.

She notices the facial expressions of awe as all eyes are drawn back into the caramel that is bubbling away in the copper kettle.

“There is a lot of butter and a lot of cream that goes into that,” says Pamela.

It has 10 minutes to go, according to the digital timer displayed on the wall behind the kettle.

Patricia walks back into the kitchen and begins prep work on breaking apart chocolate to be tempered. Tempering is the melting of chocolate at a consistent temperature, so that the chocolate has a smooth shiny gloss to it.

This delicious chocolate is being prepped for the turtles being made today, along with other items that will be dipped in it.

“We make all the chocolate and fudge,” said Patricia.

“And of course our caramel,” added Pamela.

Patricia and Pamela are twin sisters and co-owners.

Pamela has been making candy for the past ten years.

Great! Lakes Candy has been in business for four years. Today is their re-opening from the slumber of the cold winter months.

“This used to be Mel’s Fish Store, people were skeptical that we would ever get the fish smell out, but we did,” says Pamela.

“All the recipes are my dad’s,” says Pamela. “Our grandfather and father were candy makers, now we are the third generation.”

A sharp beep sounds from the corner from the thermometer.

“Hey I think it’s done now, give me a hand,” says Dennis.

The kettle of caramel is carefully hoisted onto a cart to cool a bit more.

It’s still too hot and needs to thicken before it can be used for the caramel apples, but it’s the perfect temperature and consistency for turtles.

Pamela carefully fills a metal funnel with caramel, and positions it over the top of the tray of cashews. She knowingly squeezes the handle of the funnel, and a generous dollop of caramel pours across the cluster of cashews. She explains that its best to do this before the caramel has a chance to cool off too much and clogs the release valve on the funnel.

Finally, the caramel is thick enough for the apples. Dennis and Pamela each dip several before turning to me and Jon and saying, “your turn.” I am a bit skeptical, but after watching everyone else, I have to admit it looks like fun.  Fun is a relatively boring term compared to what it was. I feel a sense of elation when dipping the apple into the caramel, swirling it though the viscous sweet golden brown liquid, pulling it up, twirling it and repeating the process.

None of the caramel is wasted. It is either used to dip marshmallows, or it is pulled out and spread out in a sheet to make homemade caramel candies.

A breeze and a tinkle of bells and a door closing brings everyone’s attention to the clock. It is now 10:00 a.m., and the store is officially open for summer.

Barely five minutes later, a rush of 12 people walk in, looking to satisfy the cravings for chocolate and the withdrawals from it that they suffered due to the winter closing of the store.

Patricia works quickly behind the counter as customers approach the counters laden with sweets and order more from the cases.

“It’s the triad [turtles, chocolate walnut- fudge, and English toffee] that is our most popular,” says Patricia as she works to fill an order for one-half pound of hazelnut fudge.

More customers walk in, inquiring about the recently dipped caramel apples. Pamela smiles knowingly and leads them into the kitchen to pick out their apple of choice.

“Anything the customers can partake in; that personal touch, you remember those” says Pamela.

Visit the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen blog

Dennis and Pamela show Ashley and Jon how to dip apples in caramel. Video courtesy of Ashley Scheiller.

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