By Rob Levey
Seacoast Scene, April 23-29, 2015
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
If it's not broken, don't fix it — that's Doug Nelson's philosophy when it comes to the way he's made salt water taffy since 1958.
"My grandfather was an expert candy man—he taught me so much," said Nelson, whose saltwater "kisses," as he refers to them, may be found and enjoyed at Nelson's Candies in Hampton Beach. "I use all-natural ingredients without any preservatives and use the same methods he used."
It is a process for making candy that can be traced back to 1911 when his grandfather, Allen Mack, opened the original Nelson's Candy store in Lowell, Massachusetts.
"He could make anything. I always thought it would be neat to do what he did," Nelson said.
For the saltwater kisses, Nelson said it comes down to copper kettles, which stay as hot inside at the top as at the bottom.
"Candy is about chemistry, and copper ket-tles conduct heat more evenly than anything else," he said.
In the case of salt water taffy, this chemis-try relies on an exact of temperature of 252 degrees, which is the temperature at which he heats his base of corn syrup, sugar and salt. Once the base heats up enough to boil for the first time, he said they add one to one and-a-half pounds of lard at which time they "stand and watch the thermometer."
"There's no butter, so nothing to burn, so we don't even need to stir it," he said. Upon reaching 251 degrees, the mixture is removed and placed on a metal plate that rests on a water-cooled table. Noting it will heat up 1 more degree before beginning to cool, he said they then bring the salt water taffy to a pulling machine with hooks that fluffs it out.
"You need air in there or else it would pull your fillings out when you ate it," said Nel-son, who said the machinery he uses — like the process itself has not changed in more than 100 years.
"The machine that cuts and packages the saltwater kisses dates back to 1903 and has the original motor," he said. "The puller dates to 1903. They work great."
According to Nelson, citrus flavors tend to be the most popular.
"We have orange, lemon and lime," he added. "We use oils for flavor and all natural
colors. People like that nowadays."
His most unique flavor, however, may be his personal favorite.
"We have a peanut butter saltwater kiss with a molasses base with peanut butter in the center — it's sort of like a cinnamon bun," he said. "It's amazing and there's nothing like it anywhere. It's just peanut butter and salt."
In looking ahead toward the summer, Nel-son said he cannot help but remember his past.
"I can't imagine doing anything different," he said. "I wouldn't even know how to make candy if I didn't do it the traditional way. ... I still love what I'm doing."