By Jacque Hilburn-Simmons Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas.
Busy mom Tracee McCaslin isn't ashamed to admit she has a sweet tooth.
She grew up drooling over the delectable array of goodies created by Lindale Candy Company, artfully displayed in a big glass cabinet brimming with colorful choices.
"I spent a whole lot of time here," she said, face aglow. "I grew up here and I remember this place from when I was little bitty. As far as having a favorite, I really liked the suckers that were as big as your face."
So when the beloved candy shop, in business since 1946, came up for sale a few years ago, Mrs. McCaslin just had to have a piece of the action.
It's been a sometimes sticky adventure for the busy mother of three, but thanks to a loyal cast of family members the company continues to turn out mouth-watering candy by the piece or pile, just like the old days.
"It's not waivered at all," Mrs. McCaslin said. "We still make candy the old fashioned way. We're probably best known for our peppermint. We still make it by hand, and we're one of about two (known companies) in the U.S. that still hand pull our peppermint."
They use the same recipes, methods and machinery from the 1940s that made Lindale Candy Company an East Texas icon.
This commitment to traditional methods honors the efforts of prior owners, "Candy" Jim and "Miss Ruby" Withrow, but it also adds a little magic to unwrapping a stick of homemade peppermint.
"Every one is different, like snowflakes ... no two are exactly alike," Mrs. McCaslin said. "People think we're just open at Christmas, but we're open all year making candy. If we're here, we're open and people can come in and shop."
TRICKS, TECHNIQUES There's nothing simple about the old school ways, it seems.
During a recent visit, Mrs. McCaslin's expert candy-making brother, Terry Cochran, was turning out a 35-pound batch of hand-pulled peppermint.
"Sometimes, the days can get pretty long," said Cochran, who oversees production and maintenance. "It's really a fun place to be ... all our customers are happy we're here."
The kitchen can seem like a busy, noisy place when a new round of candy is in the works.
In reality, every step in the process is well orchestrated.
On a full day, the shop can produce between 200 and 300 pounds of peppermint and brittle with not a recipe book in sight.
"I got it memorized," Cochran said with a grin.
It doesn't take an abundance of ingredients to create the shop's signature seller, primarily just sugar, corn syrup and water. The trick is paying close attention to detail.
The candy connoisseurs admit to being real sticklers to the time-tested production techniques, plus imported peppermint oil.
A warm room temperature is critical for their art.
Temperatures generally hover in the mid-90s and above, allowing the product to remain pliable long enough to shape into sticks, canes and baskets.
Ingredients are mixed and then heated to a boil in a large, antique kettle.
When sustained temperatures reach the optimal level, the bubbling liquid is poured onto a cooling table and manipulated until it turns into an oozing blob of sugary goodness about the size of a jumbo loaf of bread.
"You get a good workout," Cochran said, as he wrangles the concoction into submission.
Flavoring is added and the blob is put through special motorized machines that add consistency and shape.
Whirling rollers shape it into a thick roll of sticky goodness, resembling a spinning barber pole.
With more spinning and a little tugging, the peppermint roll seems to double and even triple in size as it becomes thinner.
"We roll it to keep it from going flat," Mrs. McCaslin said, working alongside family member Beverly Graham to keep the strands in motion.
The process continues until the candy reaches the desired dimension and is cool to the touch.
Ms. Graham cuts the candy into small sticks, using a slicing device that dates back to the 1940s.
A single batch can amount to roughly 900 peppermint sticks, Mrs. McCaslin said.
LEGACY CONTINUES The trio of goodie gurus is quick to credit former and current shop workers Averie Elliott, Cole Prather and Misti Cochranwith showing them the ropes on the proper production techniques.
Efficiency is important at the company.
Holiday orders keep the staff hustling this time of year to fill requests for not only peppermint but other flavored treats as well, including fudge and chocolate.
Orders skyrocketed after the company was featured in a recent issue of Food Network Magazine, but no one seems to be complaining.
"Not at all," Ms. McCaslin said. "We had orders coming in from all over ... we're happy to sell our candy."
Locally, the company is happy to show off its products to school and group tours during certain hours, allowing observers to see firsthand how the business operates.
"People think it's cool," Ms. Graham said. "They really like it."
Lindale Candy Company, 113 W. Hubbard St., is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dallas residents Caroline and Bill Simpson seem grateful to know the shop, after all these years, is still in the business of tempting taste buds.
"I've never seen a place like this," he said, eyeing peanut butter and Dr. Pepper flavored sweets. "It's neat, I like it." Mrs. Simpson remembers the shop from childhood. Her last visit was in 1998.
"I stopped in for the nostalgia," she said. "I remember coming here as a child. I remember it had wood floors that went back and forth when you walked on them. The floors are different now, but everything else is pretty much the same. I'm happy ...
I'm glad it's still here."