For just shy of 100 years Dan's Homemade Candies in Joliet has been delighting customers with tasty delights ever since.
Every autumn since 1919, this family-run business has been up to its elbows in dipping apples into 200-degree copper kettles full of caramel. The businesses now has two sites—one at 229 E. Cass St. and the other at 1103 Plainfield Road.
In preparation for a host of harvest celebrations, the staff inspects each apple to check for bruises and then moves to prepare between 10-13 loads of apples a day; each load produces between 350-400 taffy apples. Every apple—whether it's destined to be peppered with granulated salted nuts, served plain or decked in orange to resemble a pumpkin—is hand-dipped. In an average year, Dan's sells 100,000-plus small, medium and large taffy apples.
The small apples are dipped first to get a nice coating. As the caramel cools, they move to the medium sized ones and then finally, the large apples. The longer the batch cools, the thinker the coating, said Kelly Bostjancic, a member of the Nelson Family which bought the store and it's recipes in 1991.
And while the term "taffy apple" is as much a part of Americana as scarecrows and Trick-or-Treaters, said Bostjancic, it's really caramel that coats the apple. The special recipe for Dan's caramel, which supposedly got posted some years ago on Facebook, remains a family secret. The published recipe was bogus, she added, but Dan's never bothered to respond.
The Secret is in the Apples
However, Bostajancic did share some tidbits about the key ingredient in the store's top autumn seller. It's the apples, she said. "We never buy apples from a store because they have wax on them."
"We use only Jonathon apples. We get them at the beginning of the season from Southern Illinois and later in the season (from orchards) in Michigan." It was tough this year," she added. The apples were impacted by the draught. "We got them from an orchard way north in Michigan."
Why Jonathan apples? There are two reasons:
- They're sturdy. They don't get mushy when dipped in the hot caramel.
- They have a thick skin and a firm texture that stands up to the steamy temperature of the caramel.
At Sweet Company, 19806 Wolf Road, Mokena, the shelves are lined with Halloween treats as well as taffy apples. At this specialty store, Granny Apples are used for the traditional seasonal treat. "They're tart and sweet." They answer the call for the both ends of the palate, said store owner Kelly Matson.
Sweet Company also attracts ghost, goblins, fairy princesses and super heroes to peanut butter cups shaped like pumpkins and pumpkin truffles.
For Amy Peterson, owner of Amy Peterson Chocolates, 7713 W. St. Francis Road, the best breed for the "ginormous" caramel -covered treats are Honey Crisp apples. "They're the perfect combination of tart and sweet."