Perfecting the Art of Candy Making - Wildman's Candy Company By Doreen Pendgracs
(article originally appeared in the 2009 Canadian Farmers' Almanac)
"It's like walking into a time warp," says Carol Widman Kennedy, describing the candy store that her grandparents, George and Clara Widman, opened in Crookston, Minnesota in 1911. That same store remains open today and is operated by Widman Kennedy's brother, George Widman III, boasting the same soda fountain that once made the store the hot spot of Crookston.
"Our grandparents were candy makers and ice cream makers," says Carol. "Their homemade flavors for sodas and ice cream dishes - along with their delicious malts - made the Widman'sCandy Store a popular gathering place in the community. It was open until 1:00 a.m. for people to gather after the movies got out."
The Widman family's candy making roots date back four generations to 1885, when George's grandfather, William got his start in Dubuque, Iowa where he was employed by the Pearson Candy Company and drew accolades for inventing the 7-Up candy bar . He soon moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and opened his own store, beginning the legacy of the Widman's Candy Company.
Candy making has given the Widmans a taste of the sweet life. "What else is there to do," jokes George Widman II, who at age 87, still works six days a week with wife, Betty, (age 82) at the Grand Forks, North Dakota store the couple opened in 1949.
This well-aged candy maker has seen many changes in the business over his multi-decade career, but the fundamentals of the business remain the same. Every piece of Widman's candy is hand-dipped and handmade in copper kettles, the good old-fashioned way.
You can taste that special care and hands-on difference in the quality of their candies. "We make over 200 kinds of candy, including seasonal specialties such as caramel apples for Halloween," says Carol. As she and her husband, David Kennedy, are the official candy-makers at the Carol Widman Candy Company, the familyís Fargo, North Dakota location, employees are permitted to do dipping and assist as required, but are not authorized to make the candy. That is how closely the Widmanís family recipes are protected.
"But it's not just the recipes that are important," says George Widman II. "It takes many years to perfect the skills of candy making. After spending 60 years in the business, I'm still reading books on the subject and watching the Food Channel, where I pick up the occasional tidbit. We know the science of making chocolate, and that is why you simply canít buy better chocolate than ours."
At Widman's, you can get everything from chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, chocolate-covered nuts of all types, chocolate-covered fruits, and chocolate-covered licorice, to chocolate-covered olives and even chocolate-covered jalapeno peppers!
"Chocolate is a natural preservative, so anything covered in chocolate will keep fresh for a few days," says Carol. 'Isn't it interesting how the tartness of the peppers goes so nicely with the sweetness of the chocolate?" she asks, as I taste test my way through the variety of unusual but very tasty offerings.
The product that Widman's is best known for is the Chipper, chocolate-covered potato chips made from potatoes grown in the fertile Red River Valley. Chippers were originally only available in milk chocolate, but now come in dark chocolate, sugar-free chocolate, and peanut butter coatings as well. Chippers come nicely packed in decorative boxes, so they can travel well without getting crushed.
Carol loves and rarely refuses a creative challenge. "My mother and I are the creative forces in the business," says Carol, who has degrees in both Home Economics and Interior Design. As a result, the design element definitely comes into play at Widmanís, where you can get custom-made, personalized chocolate creations such as miniature pianos and golf clubs.
"The desire for chocolate never seems to wane -- regardless of the era. In fact, it may have even grown recently," notes Carol. "Grandpa and Grandma focused on nougats, caramels, and cremes. Fudge, ribbon candy, and fancy Christmas candies were also popular in that era. Mom and Dad added a whole new product line including our famous Chippers, and we've expanded on that to please today's customers."
And just who are those customers? "As much as 90 per cent of our customers are women," says Carol. "They buy for both the home and for the office. Men generally only buy chocolates as gifts. The other interesting difference is that women recognize the need for chocolate. They'll come in and say, 'I need' half a pound of this or that, while men will nearly always say, 'I want' when placing their orders."
You can find Carol Widman Kennedy every day but Sundays at 4325 - 13th Avenue SW in Fargo. Call (701) 281-8664 or toll-free (800) 688-8351. You'll find George Senior, Betty, and their son, Dan at Widmanís on 13th Avenue in downtown Grand Forks. Call (701) 775-3480.
For a bit of nostalgia, visit George Junior and his wife, Lois, at the historic Widman's Candy Company, 116 South Broadway in Crookston, where candy is still cooled on the original marble slab that George Widman I used in 1911. Call (218) 281-1487.
The wonderful line of Widman's candy products can be found online at: www.carolwidmanscandyco.com and ordered by phone or fax at (701) 281-1739.