A sweet treat for St. Paddy's

Confection: The Irish Sweet Potato, a popular creamy candy, is available to patrons of a Hamilton shop for a limited time only around the holiday.

March 15, 2000|By Jenn Williams | Jenn Williams,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sweet-toothed patrons of Moore's Candies in Hamilton usually find an array of confections to satisfy their palates. But the only time they can indulge in the rich and creamy Irish Sweet Potato is around St. Patrick's Day. D. James Heyl Jr., owner of the tiny candy factory that has manufactured candy since 1919, has been making the confection, sometimes referred to simply as the Irish potato, for about 10 years.

He says customers enjoy the small, potato-shaped treats made from a rich vanilla buttercream with a "smidge" of coconut and hand-rolled in cinnamon. "They're good ... something different," agrees Mickey Gross, 78, who was visiting the store recently with her husband, Fred, 80.

The couple, who live nearby, have been coming to the shop for 30 years. Mr. Gross, a diabetic who indulges in the store's sugar-free products, likes Moore's candy because it is made on the premises, he says. He admits he has difficulty choosing a favorite. "I like all of it," he says. "That's the trouble."

The recipe for the Irish Sweet Potatoes was given to Heyl by Virginia Little, a 42-year employee who retired two years ago at age 93. Little used to make the candy for church functions.

Now, Moore's sells the candy annually, usually between mid-February and the end of March.

Heyl, 52, says he expects to sell between 100 pounds and 150 pounds of the creamy morsels this year. A 12-piece box sells for $5.50 and a 1-pound box sells for $11.95.

But Moore's isn't the only local company making the Irish sweets. Wockenfuss and Glauber's Fine Candies Inc. are among others selling the candy.

Greetings and Readings in Towson, which has sold Moore's Candy since 1990, has seen an increase in demand for Moore's Irish Sweet Potato. It has quadrupled its order of the candy over the years. "We really do sell a lot," says Pam Coulter, the store's candy manager and buyer. "It's like the Mary Sue pecan egg. ... You can only get them once a year, so they sell out very quickly."

Coulter says some people are drawn to the candy because they are curious. "People who don't even know what [Irish Sweet Potatoes] are will pick them up to try them," she says.

While Heyl is not sure of the candy's origins, Conrad Bladey, author of "Conrad Bladey's Teatime Companion" (Hutman Productions, 1999), found a recipe for Irish potato candy in "The Cookin' Woman" cookbook, which was published in Dublin in 1890. "Irish immigrants made the interesting confection to remind them of their homeland," he says of the American connection.

Bladey, who expects to include the candy recipe in another cookbook, says the recipe for the Irish potatoes is so simple that many people make them at home.

It has become a "Baltimore neighborhood" type of custom, he says.

The Heyl family makes its candy in a small shop in a home tucked away on Pinewood Avenue off Harford Road in Hamilton. A small sign, "Moore's Candy," alerts customers to the store's entrance.

Once inside, visitors are met with the sweet, rich aroma of chocolate. Pounds of homemade dark or milk chocolate buttercreams, truffles and other candies fill the shop, while as much as 200 pounds of liquid chocolate swirl around in large vats. Nearby, 1-pound chocolate Easter eggs glide by on a conveyor belt. "We go through a lot of hard work to ensure personal enjoyment," says Heyl, who runs the store with his wife, Lois, and 30-year-old son Dana. His daughter, Stacey Poe, helps out on weekends. The store also has between eight to 10 employees, one of whom is 85.

Heyl's parents, Clara and Dave Heyl, bought the store from the Moores in 1964. Heyl purchased the store from his parents in 1981. "We're an old standby name," the gray-haired owner says.

Heyl's blue eyes shine from behind gray wire-rimmed glasses as he enthusiastically describes how the family uses real chocolate with cocoa butter and fresh dairy butter and cream to make the confections.

Today, Moore's sells its candy to various other stores, including Graul's Market on Bellona Avenue in Ruxton. The grocery, which has been selling the candies for at least 11 years, has a section just for Moore's candies. "It's a very good candy, not real rich or overpowering, and fairly reasonable prices," says Karl Kochanek, the store's assistant manager.

Moore's also boasts a line of Maryland-themed candy, such as handmade chocolate crabs, crab lollipops, chocolate crab pizza and Crab Bait, which is caramel popcorn seasoned with a bit of Old Bay. "Where else can you get a dozen and a half crabs for under $10?" Heyl jokes.

For more information on Moore's Candies, call 410-426-2705 or visit the Web site at www.moorescandies.com.

Irish Potato Candies

Makes about 8 dozen pieces

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 (1-pound) boxes confectioners' sugar

2 cups flaked coconut

4 teaspoons cinnamon

In large bowl, using mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until well blended. Stir in confectioners' sugar and coconut until well blended.

If mixture is too soft to handle, chill 1 hour before shaping.Shape into 1-inch ovals or balls; place on waxed-paper-covered baking sheet. Chill 1 hour.

Place cinnamon in small bowl and roll balls in bowl until covered. Store refrigerated in airtight container.

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