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Published: Tuesday, 2/5/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Once-famous Cream Peanut Clusters hand crafted again

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Nancy Bontrager and Dean L. Spangler of the Spangler Candy Co., with boxes of hand crafted peanut clusters she is making for the company at her Stella Leona artisan chocolates in Pettisville. Nancy Bontrager and Dean L. Spangler of the Spangler Candy Co., with boxes of hand crafted peanut clusters she is making for the company at her Stella Leona artisan chocolates in Pettisville.
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PETTISVILLE — The idea was to bring back the old-fashioned, pure flavor: just chocolate, peanuts, and a filling of either vanilla or maple cream.

Cream Peanut Clusters were among the most popular products made by the Spangler Candy Company for decades, ever since they were first introduced in 1912 or 1913. Back then, the Bryan-based company was known for its chocolates — butter creams, daisy chocolates, chocolate dips, and the like.

But times and tastes change. In 1953, the family-run company bought Dum Dums from the Akron Candy Company. The next year, it bought A-Z Christmas Candy Canes. Soon, the company's focus shifted from chocolate to hard candies, according to company chairman Dean L. Spangler.

"We continued to make our peanut clusters, because everyone loved them," Mr. Spangler said. 

But the quality was no longer there, he admitted. The original hand-crafted clusters had become mass produced. The final blow came in 2006, when a dramatic upsurge in peanut allergies nationwide led to a new law: All food products made in a factory where peanuts are also present must say so on their labels.

The company, which makes 10 million Dum Dums a day, wanted its popular lollipops to be allergen-free. So it leased its peanut-clusters formula to a small chocolate company in Ft. Wayne, Ind. That company made them until 2011, but was not successful.

The chocolate-covered, cream-filled peanut clusters went out of production until: Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, the old-fashioned peanut clusters come roaring back — though only in a small way. This time they'll be made right, each one by hand, with high-quality ingredients and using the original recipes. Each one will be double-dipped in chocolate.

Nancy Bontrager, of Stella Leona Artisan Chocolates, will be making them exclusively for the Spangler Candy Company. Because they are hand-crafted they will be made in small batches, and will only be available at the Spangler Store & Museum in Bryan, at Stella Leona in Pettisville, and in the summer at Sauder Village near Archbold.

"It's more of a historic interest than commercial," Mr. Spangler said.

Mr. Spangler wanted to bring back the original taste he knew as a child, from the time he had his first peanut cluster when he was 4 years old. He had met Ms. Bontrager at an unrelated event and eventually asked her to try her hand at making the iconic chocolates.

He gave her the original recipe, and said, "I'll know it when I taste it."

"You can imagine how nervous I was," Ms. Bontrager said.

It took her three tries, but, according to Mr. Spangler, she got the taste exactly right. Both vowed not to make the mistakes of the past, sacrificing quality for quantity.

"It's going to remain artisan chocolate, because if it doesn't you can't retain that original flavor," Mr. Spangler said.

The Spangler Store & Museum is located at 400 N. Portland St. in Bryan, and is open in the winter from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 419.633.6439. Stella Leona Artisan Chocolates is located at 362 Main St. in Pettisville, and is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays; 419-445-0370.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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