For Classic Holiday Sweets, Head to Rockport
A family of candy-makers turn out holiday treats at Tuck's Candies.
Until recently, Rockport was synonymous with the beach for me. But a free candy-making demonstration was intriuging enough to take a drive up the coast on a rainy and humid autumn morning. The weather is important because, as third generation candy-maker Dan Tuck explained during the demonstration, “moisture impacts candy making."
For the Tucks, professional candy-making is the family business. Dan’s grandfather Walter Tuck began making candies in 1929. His son Robert grew up in the candy store and took over in 1969. In 2010, it was Dan's turn. Remarkably, over all those years, not a whole lot has changed.
Many of the original machines, now more than 80 years old, are still in use today. Most recipes come unchanged from Walter’s original recipe book. But that hasn’t stopped them from introducing modern candies, like "Devil Dogs" and potato chips covered in chocolate.
During this busy holiday season, the Tucks make about 1,500 pounds of candy canes alone. They start right before Halloween and stop right before Christmas.
I arrive just before Dan starts making chocolate-filled peppermint satin sticks. His father is filming the operation, answering questions, giving me a crash course in candy-making and generally taking it all in with the loving but watchful eye of the family patriarch. After all, candy-making is as much science as art.
Dan mixes heated sugar, cream of tartar and water in a big vat. According to Robert, the water dissolves the crystal structure of the sugar, while the cream of tartar keeps the crystals from forming again as the mixture cools. The candy is warmed to 325 degrees Fahrenheit—just ten degrees shy of burning—with the goal of removing moisture. This is where the weather comes in; on a humid day, that moisture is much harder to take out.
At this stage, the candy is considered a supercooled liquid, like glass. Surprisingly, the whole precise process only takes half an hour from mixing the ingredients to finishing the candy. Dan presses and folds the candy like dough for cooling before transferring it to a pulling machine to remove air bubbles.
Customers tell the Tucks that they take three or four of these candies and throw them in hot coffee or hot chocolate for a seasonal treat. Sounds like a good idea!
Robert tells me many large commercial candy-makers use corn syrup, but they never do. Tuck's candy is made the old fashioned way, with 100 percent sugar. He says it makes their candy more “biteable.” That corn syrup may give candy an infinite shelf life, but that comes at the cost of its texture—which, according to Robert, can come out “like a cough drop.” He shows me how to stretch out one of the pieces of finished candy, and gives me a bite to try. Sticking to tradition has paid off; it’s melt in your mouth good.
For those seeking some old-fashioned New England holiday charm, the Tucks offer free candy-making demonstrations every Saturday until Christmas. There are several restaurants, small shops and boutiques in the area—not to mention the ocean views, which are beautiful, regardless of the weather. And did I mention the candy? There’s nothing like a Tuck’s sugar rush to fuel some holiday shopping.
Tuck's Candy Factory, 7 Dock Sq, Rockport, 978.546.2840, tuckscandy.com