The History Channel has an excellent series entitled "Modern Marvels," which takes a fascinating documentary look at various aspects of American life while exploring wonderful inventions and processes. Candy making is one such process recently covered by the Modern Marvel series. I enjoyed watching it, mainly because although the process is more mechanized now, it remains essentially as it was almost fifty years ago, when I made candy at a factory.
In 1967, while in the second half of my senior year of high school, I worked the evening shift at Lufkin's Atkinson's Candy Company, then owned and operated by Dr. Basil Atkinson and his family. It remains in operation at the same location on the western side of Lufkin, with much larger facilities now. I still see their candies for sale and in the candy bowls some offices keep. You have likely seen their little peanut butter logs - which I love to this day - adorned with the Atkinson's logo.
When I worked there, Atkinson's had four kinds of candy: the peanut butter bars, the red and white striped peppermint sticks, the red and white coconut bar, and the Chick-O-stick.
Gary Teer, Lonnie Flowers and Mike Watkins were three classmates who also worked at the factory on the evening shift with me. Mike's job was cooking peanuts. It was a process which never ended, with delicious peanuts constantly being prepared, and the rich aroma of peanuts wafting through the air. Gary, Lonnie and I worked on the floor making candy.
The process begins with the cooking of the candy base, which is largely corn syrup and sugar. Brought to a high temperature, it is made into a very hot, thick, clear or translucent mixture which quickly begins to harden as soon as it is taken off the heat and poured onto a slab designed for working the candy.
In those days. a cook above manually poured the hot candy onto a slab below, which a worker had prepared by throwing flour on the hard metal working surface. Bounded on each side with metal several inches high, the working surface was where a worker would knead the candy with a piece of metal which looked like a large blade from a lawn mower. Because it was so hot, workers would wear two pairs of gloves to protect the hands. Care had to be taken to keep the hot candy from touching the skin.
The workers would knead the candy until it became uniformly mixed, and its color began to change into a very white taffy appearing substance. A worker would then lift the large chunk of candy onto a machine with motorized arms which would further knead the candy until it was very uniformly mixed. If the candy was to be peppermint, a very small amount of peppermint oil would be added as this step took place. It was about a tablespoon or so, and that stuff was extremely hot to the touch.
For peppermint candy, the worker took a small portion of the candy and worked it on a side table, blending in a dark red color. Out of that piece is made a large rectangle of dark red candy. That one piece becomes the stripe you see on a stick of peppermint candy. It becomes one side of a large, single peppermint stick. That large stick of peppermint is placed into a machine which has rollers that roll the candy until a worker feeds it into machinery which will shape the candy and make it into the familiar peppermint stick.
The peanut butter bars are made in a similar fashion. They have peanuts and brown coloring in the mix, but the general ingredients and processes remain largely the same as with peppermint, except for the distinctive flavor of each and the peanuts in the peanut butter bars.
I have never cared much for peppermint candies, but those Atkinson's peanut butter bars remain one of my all time favorites. I never pass up a chance to eat one. If you're eating Atkinson's candy, you're eating candy made right here in East Texas.