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Monday, January 20, 2014

For the Love of See's!

There really was a "Mrs. See"!
I am sure that there are loads of chocoholics out their who have their favorite, upscale brands of chocolate - imported and domestic, artisan and organic...  We have them here in Eugene.  In fact, we have more than one local chocolatier of our own, as well as a restaurant devoted to putting chocolate in everything, savory and sweet, entree and dessert.

Call me a Luddite or a philistine, but my love of chocolate goes in two directions - See's and Hershey's.  I will admit to a preference for Baker's when it comes to baking, but no fancy brands for me.  In fact, I get a little miffed when I see certain high-profile celebrity chefs and homekeepers insist that one use the "highest quality" (meaning most expensive and hardest to find) chocolate when making up a batch of brownies or a basic chocolate cake.  The old brands were good enough for grandma (if you were lucky enough to have a grandmother who baked!), and I am used to their flavor and know what the results will be.  You shouldn't pay too much attention to my reaction to such things, though...  I am annoyed every time a cook insists on unsalted butter...  I'm just like that, I guess.

Now, when it comes to chocolate treats, there is only one thing I want...  See's Candy!  I love the feeling of their little white and black, 1930's styled shops.  Perfectly air-conditioned and smelling like chocolate and butter.  The comfortably middle-aged ladies in their white smocks are always ready to give away a free sample (I must admit to some disappointment when it's something with nuts and dried fruit, but I digress), and they seem infinitely patient as you walk back and forth along the glass candy case, selecting delicious little pieces from each glass dish.

I can't think of many gifts that give one more pleasure than a box of chocolates, either.  What fun to open the box and try to decide which one to eat first!  A dark chocolate, or milk?  That little square one with the "x" on top, or the round one with the swirl?  A box of chocolates is nothing but pleasure.  Even more enjoyable is creating your own box!  Yes, the pre-filled containers are all well and good (nuts and chews, buttercreams, dark and milk...), but making your very own, personally selected collection of chocolate wonderment is heaven.

First, I like the sound of a "pound" of chocolates.  I remember reading something about Richard Nixon (yes, our disgraced 37th president) and his weekly trip to the candy store to buy his wife a pound of her favorite chocolates to share at the movies.  Regardless of what you think of Tricky Dick, you have to see some good in a man who knows actually remembers what his wife's favorite chocolate variety is in the first place.  I think if you asked your resident woman, she'd tell you it was probably better than remembering her favorite perfume or lipstick shade (Chanel No. 5 and Elizabeth Arden's "Amber"...  just testing myself).

A few years ago, I came across a book called, "See's Famous Old Time Candies - A Sweet Story" by Margaret Moos Pick.  An absolutely delightful book that tells the story of Mary See and her family's rise to the pinnacle of a veritable chocolate empire!  Alright, it's not at all that dramatic, but it's a rather heartwarming book that tells you everything you could want to know about See's candies.

Did you know, for example, that See's uses almost a million and a half pounds of butter every year?  Or 10,000,000 pounds of chocolate?  Add 4,000,000 pounds of cream, 7,500,000 pounds of C&H pure cane sugar from Hawaii and another 4,000,000 of nuts, and you have created my ideal food pyramid.  You'll find just this sort of vital information in Pick's book, as well as the sweetest illustrations imaginable.  The endpapers alone display so many examples of See's chocolates that you'll be tempted to eat the book.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the story of the Marshmint.  Described in the book as a square of "bright green mint jelly, honey marshmallow, and dark chocolate", these eye-catching candies are available thanks to a few die-hard fans who went on to create the Marshmint Club, complete with a special pin to announce one's membership.  I've yet to find a Marshmint and, like the beautiful pink and orange bonbons I always coveted at the end of the candy case, I'm not even sure if their taste would match their lovely appearance (for me, those bon bons are all style and no substance - sorry Mrs. See).  But, where else can you find such an inventive and colorful treat?

My own love affair with See's started one Easter when I was about eight or nine.  The Easter Bunny was generous that year and gave me a very large See's Easter egg - dark chocolate and filled with bright, pink raspberry buttercream.  I made that egg last in the refrigerator, slicing thin wedges every day for a week or more.  I don't think any candy ever tasted better and, to this day, raspberry buttercreams are a solid favorite.  I prefer to eat the chocolate furst, saving that amazingly tinted, slightly tart filling for the final treat.  I am strange about these things...  I eat the frosting off the cake and the filling from pie first, just to get it out of the way so I can enjoy the best parts - the cake and the crust...  I know, it's odd.

For us, our weekly date often includes a trip to our local See's to buy just a few of our favorites for dessert:  milk chocolate covered butterscotch squares, buttery and brown sugary; coconut, strawberry and raspberry buttercreams (who doesn't just love the word "buttercream"?); milk chocolate mint patties; Victoria toffees; peanut crunches; California crunches...  the list seems to go on and on.

Raspberry Buttercream...  Yum!!!

If reading this doesn't send you to your local candy shop, I don't know what will.  But, as for me, I'm off to buy some chocolate!

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