Three Alabama confectioners have international customer lists stuck on their small-batch, regional recipes.
Punta Clara fudge is a family tradition, says Kim Pacey Clay, shown here with her dad, Paul Pacey.
Photo by Matt Gates
Alabamians do not observe holidays with “visions of sugar plums” dancing in their heads. Candy, yes — but chocolate has replaced those sugarplums. And during the holidays, our confectionary cravings intensify into a jingle-belled frenzy. Here’s how three candy makers help us get that Yuletide sweet tooth fix.
Punta Clara Kitchen
Punta Clara, the Spanish version of this candy company’s hometown of Point Clear, is a haven for fudge lovers. Customers browse and sample their 53 varieties while watching expert candy crafters in the kitchen.
Every day Punta Clara’s wizards of wonderful prepare batches of brownies, bake pans of pralines and put the divine in divinity.
“There is no science as to what is made on a given day,” says manager Kimberly Pacey Clay. “You develop a feel for it.”
Customers feel for it too. Just ask Dolly Parton.
“One day we looked up, and Dolly Parton walked through the door,” recalls Clay. The country music legend sampled candies, chatted a bit, made purchases, and left.
Another guest, the late George “Goober” Lindsey — remembered for his role on The Andy Griffith Show — was a frequent visitor. “He always bought our ‘Goober Pies’ (chocolate peanut pie), which he gave as Christmas gifts,” Clay recalls.
But Punta Clara is more than fudge-maker to the stars. It is a customer base of real people craving “real good.” Chocolate pecan fudge is real good. It’s made from scratch, onsite, without preservatives. Other fudge specialties include vanilla and caramel, with or without nuts.
When Clay says, “Our candies taste like what your grandmother made,” she backs it up. Her grandmother made it, and her ancestors have sold it from their 1897 home since 1975.
Divinity is the big seller during Christmastime. “It’s just pretty,” the manager says. “Divinity is snowy white, a real Southern Christmas tradition for many. It brings back great Christmas memories.” After one bite of divinity, Punta Clara will be a great memory too.
Punta Clara Kitchen • puntaclara.com
Seven Winds Kitchen
If Seven Winds Kitchen were a movie, the title might be, “From Mamma with Love.” Here’s why: Every chocolate concoction, pecan pleasure and fudged phenomenon was inspired by the storeowners’ mother, Berta Gammon.
Is it good? You Berta believe it.
“Mom started making candy as a hobby around 1945,” says shop co-owner Jane Gammon. “She made batches from her home, given as Christmas gifts, and to share with neighbors and friends.”
In 1974, Berta’s daughters, Jane Gammon and Frances Scruggs, opened The Seven Winds Kitchen and Gift Shop in Logan, Cullman County, with a product line all based around their mom’s recipes.
Seven Winds carries an assortment of candies, jellies, jams, cakes and you name it. But their signature product is peanut brittle, lots of it, as in 3,000 orders between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
“It is made in small batches, almost daily, from our kitchens,” says Jane Gammon. “That’s the key to quality. Keep batches small and control the consistency.”
A batch of Seven Winds’ legendary peanut or pecan brittle is a 45-minute cooking process derived from a 67-year-old formula. It is easier calling the Pentagon for nuclear defense codes than obtaining Seven Winds’ peanut brittle recipe. Both are well-guarded secrets.
However, they do offer tips: Tip One – When making peanut brittle from home, stretch it while hot. Tip Two: Don’t make peanut brittle from home. The Seven Winds’ sisters have being doing this for decades. You can’t compete.
Instead, visit the shop or order from their website. They ship all over, including to a customer in Paris.
“It is a lot of work,” concedes Gammon. “Frances and I do a little of everything — the books, cooking, marketing and quality control.” But the Seven Winds candy maker adds, “It’s all worth it. Mom did this for our family. For other families, our products have become their Christmas traditions, too.”
And how do siblings work so closely together in perfect harmony? “Easy,” answers Jane, “We cook in separate kitchens.”
Seven Winds Kitchen • sevenwindskitchen.com
The Chocolate Crocodile
Cyndi and Jim Ragon own The Chocolate Crocodile, a three-shop chain of candy stores, with one in Huntsville, one in Bosser, La., and one in Cyprus, Texas, near Houston.
“The candy business is diverse and varies from region to region,” Mrs. Ragon explains. “Up North, people like maple candies, anything with maple in it. Down South favorites are chocolate and peanut butter, and Alabamians love fudge and caramel.” But for reasons no one knows, Huntsville craves truffles.
“We sell more truffles in Huntsville than in any of our other stores,” she notes. “Chocolate covered apples do really well here too.” Actually chocolate covered anything does really well. You should see this place on February 14.
Customers line up at the Chocolate Crocodile on Valentine’s Day. It is a time of love, romance and chocolate strawberries as big as your fist. “Our berries are custom grown and selected from California farms,” says Huntsville’s Choc-Croc manager, Amber Palmer. “What sets our strawberries apart from ‘super-store’ varieties is the sheer size. Ours are magnificent.”
But the Chocolate Crocodile is more than heart-felt, tangerine-size strawberries. They specialize in chocolate dipped fruits, nuts, chocolate samplers and oceans of homemade caramel. “We make it daily,” Palmer says.
“We sell a lot of gift baskets during Christmas season, too,” Palmer adds. “Boxed assortments are also big during the holidays.”
And what rings in the holidays more than a “Crocodile Nest?” Assembled onsite, it’s a mixture of butterscotch, peanut butter and crunchy noodles covered in milk chocolate, just in time for a candy Christmas.
The Chocolate Crocodile • thechocolatecrocodile.com
Emmett Burnett is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Satsuma.