Do you know what children want from their boiled sweets today?
Standing in his small workshop, just yards from Cork’s iconic Church of St Anne in Shandon, sweet maker Dan Linehan doesn’t hesitate when asked the question. “Sour,” he says.
These days, children are looking for a big sour hit. And it seems it can’t be sour enough.
Dan’s son Tony, who works with him to produce a range of hard and soft sweets by hand, tells of modern sweets so sour they would make your jaw lock up and your tongue bleed. “It’s the truth,” he emphasizes when my eyebrows raise.
That’s not the kind of experience Dan and Tony want to sell. They are all about subtlety and flavour.
The last one
Shandon Sweets has been going in one form or another since 1928, when Dan’s father established the shop and workspace in the same building it’s in today. At the time, sweet making was relatively new to Cork. Dan’s father learned from a Scotsman who was working for local retailer Musgrave.
At one time, there were over a half a dozen small companies making sweets by hand in the city. Now, there is possibly only one left – in the whole of Ireland.
“Other Irish companies do make sweets,” Dan says, “but nobody does it by hand.”
The handmade aspect cost Dan business at one stage. He remembers how for a period customers went on a hygiene trip. Handmade suggested touched by the hand of man. Consumers didn’t like that. Sales dropped for a while.
He chuckles as he remembers a visit by a food standards official who suggested that he and Tony wear rubber gloves throughout production. Impractical given the temperature of the mixture that forms the basis of their boiled sweets. It comes out of the pot at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very nearly 150 degrees Celsius. Dan shows me what are essentially welder’s gloves used for holding the copper pot while pouring out the mixture, which stays very hot for most of the production process.
The days of handmade sweet production in Cork may be numbered.
It is physical work (between them Tony and Dan knead and mold 15 kilogram batches of melted glucose and sugar at a time) and the pay can’t compete with that in other sectors. “You’re never short of money, but you won’t have a lot of it either,” Dan says.
The good news is that Tony, who has already spent close to 30 years at his father’s side making sweets, likely has another 30 left in him.
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