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Salty Sisters

Salty Sisters

Please check out our video segment below:

Sea Salt Candy Company

Among the many vendors I met at The Maritime Museum Chocolate Festival, one of the stand outs was Gretchen Bender of The Sea Salt Candy Company in Vista, CA, home of Salty Sisters candies, which offers some astoundingly delicious treats, toffees, caramels, even a line of toppings and sauces, all of which are handmade, and boast unique flavour combinations your not likely to find elsewhere. I highly recommend their Chile Verde Caramel, while my fiance has fallen in love with their Dark Chocolate Java Toffee. On a recent visit to their retail store  I discovered shelves absolutely covered with endless arrays of tastes, all of which I hope to one day sample.

I was greeted by Gretchen, who invited us inside her candy shoppe. The walls were painted a vibrant sea-foam teal, and every horizontal surface was festooned with the offerings that have made Salty Sisters into local sensation. One taste and it becomes immediately apparent that the women behind Salty Sisters have struck gold. Their candy satisfies two cravings that seem to universally haunt us all, that being the perpetual ache of the sweet tooth and that lip smacking yearning for something good and salty. No longer do we have to chose either or! Salty Sisters’ delicately balanced confections will have your taste buds rejoicing.

Salty Sisters was born by Lisa, my business partner and myself. She had a family toffee recipe from her great aunt up in Chico. Her family were all almond growers up there and used to make our “Claim To Fame” toffee with whole almonds off their own trees. It was passed down through the generations made during the holidays.” Looking around I can’t help but wonder to myself how these women were able to translate cherished childhood memories into all of this.

“A couple years ago” Gretchen continues “When Lisa was looking to go back to work when David, our youngest son, was getting ready to go to preschool, she didn’t want to go back to school, she didn’t want to work full time, although we’re working about 60-70 hours a week now… we started looking around and kind of had an epiphany at a chocolate show and realized that her toffee recipe was really something special. So we paired that with my caramel recipe, which I developed when my father had throat cancer. He lost his sense of sweet taste from radiation and so I started making the caramel to satisfy that mouth feel of sweet with the local honey. It’s…very soft, not too sweet and then the addition of the unrefined sea salt on top gave it that real delicious balance of sweet and salty.”

This touches close home for me. Having convalesced a dying family members myself, I fully understand the struggle of bringing joy back into their final days. The idea that Gretchen still had spirit enough to tap into her creativity and love during these dark times is truly a testament to her character, and to the gleeful nature that defines Salty Sisters itself.

“Armed with those two recipes,” Gretchen says, her unsinkable spirit made plain in her voice “We started selling at The Leucadia Farmers Market in July of 2011, and within three months we knew we were on to something.”

Gretchen invited me back to the kitchen to witness yet another one of her and Lisa’s epiphanies, this time at the very moment of creation. I step back through a curtained doorway to the kitchen, where I find Lisa, hard at work over a pan full of her famous toffee. I can’t help but notice small dark shadows that keep passing by her whirling spoon. This batch I am told has whole peppercorns mixed right in. It seems a rather bold choice, but I’ve tasted the end results of these woman’s artful labours, and decide to trust in their judgement.

“Do either of you come from a culinary background?” I ask.

“No, I kind of come from the opposite of that.” Lisa says, as her spoon merrily whips the toffee into an ever browning whirl. “Well, I’m Italian…so we’re in the kitchen all the time.” She concedes with a twinkle in her blue eyes.

I had half expected these women to relay a story of their trials and tribulations in the culinary world. I could easily imagine Lisa as an eager sous-chef, constantly butting heads with the management, but my ears were unprepared for this.

Gretchen admits that she had worked in government jobs most of her career. Confectioning it seems was just a passion which circumstances allowed to become a career. It’s always inspiring to hear stories of people who manage to fuel their love and enthusiasm into something tangible, and these ladies have done just that. In a world where too many people head off to the daily grind in a dull malaise it’s a joy to be here, behind the scenes at Sea Salt Candy Co. The laughter and warmth that fills this kitchen (which I am certain is much more than the heat off the stove top) can’t help but infuse every bite of Salty Sister’s Candy.

As the toffee is poured into a pan and set aside to cool, I inquire about her process. I can’t imagine that every batch is prepared by hand, and yet Gretchen confirms that this is exactly the case.

“Other than the stove top we employ no machines. Everything’s cooked by hand, it’s poured by hand. It cools and then we crack it, in the case of the toffee by hand. With the caramels we cut it into squares by hand. We hand temper the chocolate. We hand dip, hand salt, hand wrap, hand pack. There are no machines. We feel like this really gives us a connection with the candy that other manufacturers don’t have. I think that the customers really appreciate that. They can feel the love in the work we do and the products that we sell.”

Soon the toffee has cooled, and I watch as Lisa cracks it by slamming the pan against the counter-top. She samples a jagged piece that’s been knocked loose, and decides to sprinkle a bit of smoked sea salt on one end, with unsmoked topping the other. I’m offered a piece of each to contrast and compare. The smoked sea salt does it for me.

“It mellows out the peppercorn” Gretchen agrees as she enjoys the fruits of this experimental recipe. However, the Salty Sisters are far from done. A pan of crisp bacon is then pulled from the over, thinly sliced and still bubbling with a sheen of glistening fat. I watch as both regular and brown sugared bacon are sprinkled over the mix. My next mouthful makes me forget all about the last, this is absolute perfection.

“Do you think we should do milk or dark chocolate?” Lisa tosses the question about.

“I prefer dark chocolate myself.” I venture.

Lisa nods, “Everybody does!”

Gretchen plays with the idea of a milk chocolate, or even a white maple chocolate, but Lisa favors the dark. I can’t wait to sample the final product. Among the names flying around for this newborn creation I hear Lumberjack Toffee. Maybe it’s just an artifact of my Québécoise ancestry, but this name greatly appeals to me (maybe Le Toffee de Bûcheron? No, that would never go in The States!)

Whatever the colour, the final chocolate selection will be drizzled over top, allowing the bacon to better adhere to the salted toffee beneath. I’m looking forward to buying myself a bag or three. If Salty Sisters sounds like it might be up your alley, keep up with them on their Facebook page or go directly to their website and try to keep from drooling on your keyboard.


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