Enjoy a Little Bah Humbug
Humbugs have a special meaning in the Kingston area — and it has nothing to do with the doom and gloom of Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, if you ask anyone who lives in that vicinity about humbugs they’ll have only sweet things to say, thanks to family-run confectioner Bell Candy.
“We have customers that have loved our products for generations,” says 27-year-old Honey Bryant, daughter of Bell Candy owners Gerald and Donna Bryant. “Customers will often tell us, ‘When I was young, my grandfather used to pull a humbug out of his pocket with lint on it and give it to me.’”
It’s those kinds of cherished memories — and that timeless taste of old-fashioned humbugs and other hard candies — that keep clients coming back for more.
Bell Candy was established more than 150 years ago, growing out of a candy-making tradition that dates all the way back to the 1800s. Gerald Bryant’s grandfather operated Bryant Candy in the United Kingdom, then moved to Canada and put down roots in Ontario.
Over the years, the company moved from Kingston to Brantford, where its name was formally changed to Bell Candy. After a move to Verona, Bell Candy ran a storefront for the better part of a century. Gerald says that he was looking to slow down a little, so they discontinued the storefront and moved to Godfrey.
Today, Bell Candy continues to make humbugs and other confectionaries — including candy canes, spearmints, peppermints, cinnamon, clove, horehound, black licorice and fruit-flavoured candies, peanut crunch and peanut brittle — from the same tried-and-true recipes.
“Eighty-five per cent of the business is humbugs,” says Gerald, who describes the taste as a traditional blend of peppermint and caramel. He learned the art of candy-making from his father and grandfather. “When I was nine or 10, I was in the shop all the time.”
Each batch of humbugs is cooked in a large kettle, until the candy reaches its required temperature. In salute to his forefathers, Gerald uses a propane-fuelled copper kettle that dates back to the 1930s. Next, the candy is poured onto a steel slab and allowed to cool; a fan blows strongly on it to assist in cooling. The flavouring is added.
At this point, the humbugs — or other candy with whites or light colours — are stretched over a steel bar, by hand, to aerate the candy and lighten its colour. Next, the strips are formed — along with any other details or designs. The candy is then placed together, stretched out by hand. “My father likes to call this ‘choking the chicken,’” says Honey.
Finally, the candy is hand-fed into a brass crank, which is now close to 200 years old. It enters a tray where it is cooled by an industrial fan, then prepared for packaging.
The process is similar for candy canes, except that once stretched they must be cut to different lengths before the tops are hand turned.
“For me, it’s the tradition of it that’s special,” explains Honey, who — along with her sister, Candy — was named in honour of the family business (the girls also have two brothers, Fred and Dan). “If you change things in any way, you’re changing the flavour and the dynamic.
“All of our candies are handmade and because we are using the same 150-year-old recipes, our candies contain very few ingredients; you just don’t see that anymore.”
She adds that the products only use real sugars and natural flavours; there are no additives or preservatives.
Bell Candy operates as a wholesale business — selling to mom-and-pop stores as well as healthfood stores, says Honey. She helps with marketing and sets up booth displays at the Frontenac Mall in Kingston and at the Garlic Festival in Perth. After all, she’s observed the art of candy-making for as long as she can remember.
“When I was younger, I always watched him,” recalls Honey, speaking of her father. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of it, and as a kid, I got to test all these things. One of my early memories is watching liquid candy pouring out on to a table; it made me think of lava.
“There’s nothing better than chewing a candy that’s still warm — it’s just firming up as you’re chewing it.”
326 Henry Rd., Godfrey, Ont.
Find it at: Cooke's Fine Foods (Kingston), Mrs. McGarrigle's Fine Food Shop (Merrickville), Black River Cheese Company (PEC)