There are many fall traditions, and just like apple cider, pumpkins and Halloween, candy apples are one of them. Who knew that there is more history than you can imagine when it comes to candy apples in America?
The first noted candy apple producer was Newark, N.J., candy maker William W. Kolb. In 1908 Kolb was trying to display his new cinnamon red candy that he developed, so he decided to place sticks in apples and dipped them in the hot candy mixture. He placed the apples in the window, and everyone wanted to know about the candy apples. Some bought the candy itself. Soon the candy apples became popular along the Jersey shore and later in candy shops around the country. The rest is history.
Many think the tradition dates back more than 200 years with the preservation of fruit. Some even date its production back to the Middle East. European candy makers would actually dip fruit into a corn syrup mixture to preserve it during the fall and winter.
There’s an old-fashioned candy apple maker in Kansas City who is truly an artisan. Frank Scola produces small batches of candy apples with simple ingredients of pure cinnamon oil and corn syrup. He does not use red hots. This is the same recipe that his uncle Joe Lombardo used more than 60 years ago.
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Scola relies on his mother, Carol, and his children, Paul, Carolyn and Tony, to help produce the hundreds of apples daily for Kansas Citians. It has become a tradition every October, and the recipe never changes.
There is a special trick in the corn syrup and cinnamon mixture. It must be heated to 300 to 310 degrees to become the perfect candied apple.
This year Scola is using apples from Peters Orchards in Waverly, Mo. Scola thinks a proper candy apple requires a hard sugar layer that doesn’t always properly set in hot humid weather, so the apple harvest is the perfect time to dip apples. He also prefers a tart apple so it offsets the sweetness of the candy. The crispness of the apple also helps hold up the candy.
Scola shared some other secrets with me that I am not allowed to divulge, but it was such a great experience watching him dip the fresh apples into this candy. To be honest, I just wanted to eat the candy by itself. But you know I just have to hang onto tradition, so before I left his shop I had already eaten one candy apple and felt so fortunate when he packed me up a couple of dozen to take home to family and friends.
Scola also told me that this is the first year he is dipping fresh pears. Now that is really unique.
The recipe has spread throughout the world for candy apples, and today in such countries as Japan they dip strawberries and oranges in the same candy mixture. In France the apples are considered a symbol of love. In China, vendors on bicycles sell them.
Uncle Franks Candied Apples are available every day through Halloween at Marco Polo’s Italian Market at 1201 W. 103rd St., Jubilee Market at 2410 Hardesty Ave. and Paul’s Liquor & Grocery at 5506 the Paseo.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.