3:44am

Sun July 1, 2012
Americandy: Sweet Land Of Liberty

In 'Sponge Candy Crescent,' Addicts Hoard 'Heaven'

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 9:09 am

The eastern shore of Lake Erie is known as the "Sponge Candy Crescent." During the region's long winter months, this crunchy, chocolatey candy is a mainstay — especially for large gatherings and holidays. But come hot weather, you can't get the temperamental treat.

Ko-Ed Candies sells a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies, candy bars and other sweets, but co-owner Sandy Whitt says her customers mostly crave sponge candy.

"It's crunchy, crispy in the center, melts very quickly in your mouth," she says. "It's got a little bit of a molasses flavor to it, even though that's not really an ingredient. It's just good."

But heat and humidity melt the outer layer of chocolate that coats each piece of flaky, yellow sponge. So production ceases in warm weather. Sponge candy addicts have to plan ahead.

A few months ago, customers formed a line out the door of Ko-Ed. All sponge candy was priced to move. Teri Campbell stocked up for summer.

"It's heaven — heavenly. As you can tell, my basket is full. I even freeze it. It comes out fine," she says.

The flavor of the sponge comes from boiling sugar and corn syrup in a copper kettle until slightly burnt. After adding gelatin and baking soda, the sponge is hard as a rock.

Candymaker Dennis Turpin whittles down a 45-pound sponge block with a 32-inch Craftsman crosscut saw.

"You could use this for cutting wood, but it serves our purpose really well," he says.

Next, the sponge pieces ride a conveyor belt under a cascade of chocolate. They're carried into a tunnel of cool, dry air and emerge in front of Mary Lou Cyna. She seals the sensitive candy in airtight bags, but not without trying a few pieces first.

"We have to test for quality control. Make sure it tastes OK. We all do that," she says. "It's a good thing [the owner] doesn't weigh us when we'd leave, or we'd be in big trouble."

The business has been in co-owner Gary Whitt's family for more than 60 years, serving the same neighborhood families for generations. Still, he says, loyalty goes only so far.

"When we run out of sponge candy, they'll come to the door and say, 'No sponge candy?' And then they'll walk out of the door without anything," he says.

Whitt is trying to bring this regional treat to the masses. He sends hundreds of orders a year all over the country — mostly to locals who have moved away. But because of weather, Whitt refuses to ship sponge candy after Easter or before Halloween.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Speaking of delicious, this summer, WEEKEND EDITION is going to take you on a cross-country tour of regional candies. We're talking about special confections that you can't find at your run-of-the-mill big box store. This weekend, to the eastern shore of Lake Erie, otherwise known as the Sponge Candy crescent. During the region's long winter months, this temperamental treat is a mainstay. Daniel Robison reports from Buffalo, New York.

DANIEL ROBISON, BYLINE: Ko-Ed Candies sells a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies, candy bars and other sweets. But co-owner Sandy Whitt says her customers mostly crave sponge candy.

SANDY WHITT: It's crunchy, crispy in the center, melts very quickly in your mouth. It's got a little bit of a molasses flavor to it, even though that's not really an ingredient. It's just good.

ROBISON: But the heat and humidity melt the outer layer of chocolate that coats each piece of flaky yellow sponge. So, production ceases in warm weather. Sponge candy addicts have to plan ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I can help who's next.

ROBISON: A few months ago, customers lined out the door of Ko-Ed. All sponge candy was priced to move. Teri Campbell stocked up for summer.

TERI CAMPBELL: It's heaven. It's heavenly. As you can tell my basket is full. I even freeze it and it comes out fine.

ROBISON: The flavor of the sponge comes from boiling sugar and corn syrup in a copper kettle until slightly burnt. After adding gelatin and baking soda, the sponge is hard as a rock.

DENNIS TURPIN: So, I start at the top.

ROBISON: Candy maker Dennis Turpin whittles down this 45-pound block with a long jagged saw.

TURPIN: Thirty-two-inch Craftsman crosscut.

ROBISON: Next, the sponge pieces ride a conveyor belt under a cascade of chocolate. They're carried into a tunnel of cool dry air and emerge in front of Mary Lou Cyna. She seals the sensitive candy in airtight bags, but not without trying a few pieces first.

MARY LOU CYNA: Got to test for quality control. Make sure it tastes OK. We all do that. Which is a good thing he doesn't weigh us when we'd leave or we'd be in big trouble.

ROBISON: The he is store co-owner Gary Whitt. The business has been in his family for more than 60 years serving the same neighborhood families for generations. But he says loyalty only goes so far.

GARY WHITT: When we run out of sponge candy, they'll come to the door and they go: No sponge candy? And then they'll walk out of the door without anything.

ROBISON: Whitt is now trying to bring this regional treat to the masses. He sends hundreds of orders a year all over the country - mostly to locals who have moved away. But because of weather, Whitt refuses to ship sponge candy after Easter or before Halloween. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Robison in Buffalo, New York.

GREENE: OK. So, what's the candy that sends you back to a sweeter and simpler time? Send us a tweet with the hashtag AmeriCandy or write us on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/nprweekend, and let us know.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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