GARDNER (CBS) – Gardner, Massachusetts. It’s the birthplace of prominent abolitionist and activist Lucy Stone. Known as the “Char City’ for its long history of furniture production, Gardner is now host to a ‘chair luge’ race every September.
But this time of year, the race is on to finish a locally made holiday sweet: candy canes.
These are no ordinary candy canes. At Priscilla Candy Shop on Main Street, they’ve been making them by hand since FDR was president. Every Thanksgiving weekend they pause their chocolate making to produce thousands of the red and white treats, by hand.
“The biggest thing is the digital thermometer. It’s the only thing that’s changed in the last 82 years,” explained shop owner Jim Gallant.
Jim runs the show now, but he married into this business. His father-in-law, Pete Trudel, showed him the ropes. Pete still works in the shop, showing us how to bend the warm canes into the perfect hook. “Yeah, I’m the hooker”, Pete giggled.
That’s the easy part. The hard work comes earlier when a boiled sugar mixture gets poured onto a cooling table where it turns into a taffy-like consistency. It’s kneaded and then separated into two pieces, a smaller one that is died red. “These will be the stripes,” Jim explained.
A larger piece is pulled and twisted by hand on a hook to incorporate air, and it’s a workout.
“That’s why I go to the gym every day,” Jim said.
The red stripes are wrapped around the base and then it’s time to roll out the candy canes. Great nephew Josh rolls the giant log while Jim pulls smaller cane-sized logs from the opposite end.
The rest of the assembly line includes one of the Gallants’ four sons: Brandon, who slides the canes into a plastic sleeve; then Pete steps in to carefully bend over the top to form a hook.
Jim’s wife Maureen grew up in this shop. “Every batch I watch totally amazes me,” she said. “To see my kids and my husband, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
This family produces thousands of oversized candy canes the weekend after Thanksgiving. A good sized crowd gathers in the store and peers through the windows into the kitchen to watch them in action.
“It’s nice to see that people are amazed at how much work is involved in making the actual cane,” Jim said.
Because they are hand-made, each candy cane is different. Jim says his customers love them and ask to have them shipped all over the country.
“They just remind people of what old-time Christmas is supposed to be,” he said.
After 82 years in business, the next generation will have to see the shop through to the century mark, because according to Jim, this is not the type of business you sell.
“There is no school in the United States that teaches this, so you have to do it with someone who knows that they are doing and it takes a long time,” he said.
For now, it’s back to chocolates until next Thanksgiving.