Candy Sweet Spots
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie
122 Derby St., Salem, 978- 745-2744; 59 Main St., North Andover, 978-689-3636, peppercandy.net
Photo by Anthony Pira
The North Shore’s oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, dates all the way back to 1806, when founder Mrs. Spencer began selling their signature Gibralter candy out of a basket on the steps of Salem’s Old First Church. The Gibralters, simple sugar candies with lemon or peppermint flavor, were originally known for their long shelf life, which made them ideal for Salem’s sailors to take on board their ships. The company’s second popular historic candy, the Black Jack, was likely developed by confectioner John Pepper, who acquired the business after Mrs. Spencer’s descendants returned to England. The Black Jack, a molasses candy, was the first American stick candy to be commercially produced.
Today, the Gibralters and Black Jacks still attract visitors from far and near to the company’s Derby Street and North Andover locations, which boast a full array of both modern and old-timey candies. “Our two founding candies are some of our most popular,” says owner Jennifer Burkinshaw, a member of the family that has owned the company for the past four generations. “Oprah also included our turtles among her Favorite Things in 2009, and the popularity of our turtles has definitely reflected that.” While the company has received national acclaim, its roots remain firmly in the community where it began. Each year in both the Salem and North Andover locations, the Burkinshaw family holds open houses for members of the community to stop in, enjoy hot chocolate and snacks, and watch a hands-on demonstration of how employees create the season’s candy canes and Christmas hard candies. This year’s open houses will be held on December 6 and 7 in each location and will feature new candy assortments and holiday gifts.
255 Newbury St., Danvers, 978-774-2383, putnampantry.com
Established in 1951, Putnam Pantry’s unique combination of homemade candy and delicious ice cream has attracted visitors to its Route 1 North location for years. For owner Eric Emerson, grandson of the store’s original founder, “There’s both a chemistry and an art to making chocolate. Great candy is made with great equipment or years of experience. At Putnam Pantry, we have both.” In the store’s two kitchens, Emerson and other employees create their popular caramel turtles, butter crunch toffee, and the store’s brand-new line of truffles. “We’ve created 8 to 10 new truffle flavors,” Emerson explains. “And we’re always working on new candies and new flavors.”
The store has a lot to offer for the holidays as well: Beginning the week after Thanksgiving, the Pantry creates its own candy canes on-site, opening to the public 2 to 3 times per season. Boxed chocolate collections are also particularly popular for the holidays, and Emerson creates new designs each year. The store’s ice cream bar offers an extra draw for winter visitors: “People like ice cream all year-round,” explains Emerson. “But it’s a bit less convenient in the winter. At Putnam Pantry we have comfortable seats and a nice fireplace where people can relax and enjoy their ice cream without braving the cold weather.”
Prides Crossing Confections
Beverly’s historic Prides Crossing neighborhood is home to the wonderful Prides Crossing Confections, a locally based candy store owned by Milissa Oraibi, former owner of the well-loved Wild Horse Café. The many variations and flavors of chocolates, made in the store’s on-site kitchen, accompany traditional offerings like peanut brittle, caramel popcorn, homemade hot fudge, and their famous caramel and pecan turtles. While Prides Crossing excels at time-honored favorites, they also strive for the uncommon: “We have all kinds of new caramels this year,” says Oraibi. “We have the traditional chocolate-covered ones, but we’ve also embraced the new salted-caramel trend with special salts flavored with bacon and habanero.” Oraibi adds, “We also have new strawberry and blueberry creams for the holidays, as well as our old favorite, white chocolate peppermint bark.” These holiday candies accompany the specially designed gift boxes with both Christmas and Hanukkah themes: “We decorate the candies with red and green icing for Christmas, and blue and white icing for Hanukkah. They are a beautiful way to celebrate any holiday or gift-giving occasion.”
Founded in 1982 by Oraibi’s friend Chris Flynn, the business moved in 2000 from its small original location to its current space in the Prides Crossing train station. The change brought an expanded and updated facility for both Flynn and Oraibi to continue the candy tradition. “Chris Flynn built a great business from the ground up,” Oraibi explains. “That’s what attracted me to the store originally, and I hope to carry on his great traditions and start some of my own as well.”
177 Essex St., Salem, 978-740-0660; 42 Rogers St., Gloucester, 978-281-4000, turtlealley.com
Another North Shore favorite, Turtle Alley opened its first location in Gloucester in 1999; its popularity quickly allowed it to expand and open a second location in Salem’s Museum Place Mall in 2002. Although both locations have moved to different streets in the past four years, owner Hallie Baker maintains the quality of excellence and innovation that customers have come to expect.
“Our most popular candies are the turtles, especially Milk Chocolate Cashew. Several of the flavors are Turtle Alley originals: cranberry-pecan, almond ginger, and chipotle, to name a few,” she explains. Always a fan of classic candies with an unexpected twist, Baker has also devised several different flavors of peanut butter cup, including a bacon-flavored one called The King. She explains, “We are always coming up with new candies, no matter the season. During the winter holidays, we make candy cane bark, Grand Marnier- soaked chocolate-covered cherries, and many more festive treats.”
Winfrey's Fudge and Chocolates
44 Railroad Ave., Hamilton, 978-468-7448; 115 Cabot St., Beverly, 978-922-7448; 42 Newburyport Tnpk., Rowley, 978-948-7448, winfreys.com
Winfrey’s Fudge and Chocolates is beloved for its rich cream-and-butter chocolate fudge, which has been their most popular candy since opening in 1979. “It’s my father’s secret recipe,” explains Jillian Winfrey, who is deeply involved in the company along with her siblings. “It’s been a fun thing all these years because still no one knows it but him.” Stuart Winfrey, the originator of the recipe, and his wife, Chris, are the company founders, but it’s a family business through and through: “My parents are beginning to think about retirement, although they’re still very much involved, so my brothers and I each take different roles. We want to keep our operation small and community oriented.”
Winfrey’s makes candies by hand in their Rowley location. “Our vanilla caramels, turtles, and butter crunch are very popular,” explains Winfrey. “And for the holidays, we make peppermint variations of some of our old favorites, like chocolate candy cane fudge and peppermint vanilla buttercreams.” Winfrey’s also makes candy canes each December, a process that customers can see in the store’s newest location. “Beverly is the first location where we’ve been able to combine manufacturing with the retail space, so that customers can get a glimpse behind-the-scenes,” Winfrey explains.
The company’s other claim to fame is its assortments—meticulously curated boxes of chocolates that are perfect for gift giving. “We put a lot of time into our assortments,” Winfrey says. “We choose the design of the box, the paper, the ribbons, and all the details to make the complete package beautiful. Everyone loves to see their Winfrey’s under the tree.”