By Lauren Wanko
Lots of fathers and sons have family traditions. For this duo, during the holiday season it’s all about making candy canes.
“Christmas time it’s been very busy, and it will be for the next few weeks,” said Dave Giambri.
It started in 1942. Giambri’s uncle founded Giambri’s Quality Sweets in South Philadelphia. They offered all sorts of treats, like hand-made candy canes. More than 70 years later the candy canes are still handmade in their Clementon factory.
“It just makes a big difference,” he said.
“I was always the candy man,” said his son, Dave Giambri.
This fourth generation candy man helps make about 1,500 candy canes a day. It starts with a copper kettle on a gas stove. Then they add water, cream of tartar, 45 pounds of sugar and corn syrup. It’s all mixed with a wooden paddle and cooks until it reaches 332 degrees. Then it’s poured onto a cooling table where it’s cut into two pieces. Red food coloring is added to this half because the family’s making peppermint candy canes.
“Well our red piece and our white piece, amber essentially at this point,” said son, Dave. “Both pieces will start to cool them down and we work them to a dough consistency so they are somewhat firm.
That takes about 20 minutes. Then it’s carried to the hard candy room. The amber section is placed on the pulling machine. Peppermint oil is added, too.
“As the sugar crystals pull they stretch and turn white,” he said.
Then the candy’s placed onto a batch warmer.
“Once you start the process, you can’t stop. You know, if it gets too cold it will crack,” said his father.
In order to ensure that the stripes are even, staffers make a giant candy cane square of sorts with three red strips, divided by white ones. They’re placed on top of the candy square. One large red piece is placed on the other end. A piece of the original amber-colored candy is added to the square so the canes glisten.
“So now you have perfectly evenly space between the thick red stripes and three small stripes,” Dave Sr. said.
Then it’s re-loaded onto the batch warmer for about 45 minutes. It’s stretched, pulled, thinned and twisted. Next it’s cut and hooked with a wooden stick.
“It’s a wooden stick that we created back in wood shop back in high school that we still use,” Dave Sr. said.
About 450 candy canes are cooled and then bagged.
Giambri’s Quality Sweets makes about 40,000 candy canes a year. They started the process in late August and typically wrap things up by mid-December. There are 10 different flavors. Each season customers vote online for a new flavor of the year. The most popular here? Peppermint.
David Giambri’s especially proud to see their products in other stores.
“We actually do a lot of wholesale business,” he said. “Our candy canes are available at Dean and DeLuca’s in New York City.”
The family tries to squeeze in a vacation after the holiday rush before gearing up for Easter.