For the past 40 years, my parents have exchanged the same presents on their wedding anniversary. In addition to the concert tickets, jewelry, tennis rackets, coffee mugs and fridge magnets, the list always includes See’s Candies.
The gift exchange usually starts like this: First thing in the morning, my father puts a dozen red roses in a vase and places it on the edge of the breakfast nook. It’s strategically positioned to be the first thing my mother sees when she walks down the stairs. An appropriately mushy card awaits in an envelope propped against the vase, and a folded See’s Candies bag sits beside it.
Then my mother walks down the stairs holding a folded bag of See’s Candies behind her back as if, after years of the same routine, there’s even a slight chance she’ll be presenting anything else. In her other hand? An overly mushy card.
Each of their bags holds five dark chocolate Scotchmallows, the best and one of See’s most popular varieties. Introduced in the 1950s, Scotchmallows are made with a disk of honey marshmallow under a layer of smooth caramel covered in a thin sheet of dark chocolate.
There is no doubt that next year, things will proceed in the same fashion.
If you grew up in California, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with See’s Candies, which celebrates its 100th birthday this month. For many, the brand’s black-and-white checkerboard motif (in stores and packaging) is associated with family celebrations, holidays and momentary escapes. The company’s more than 240 stores, most of them in California, can be found at almost every major shopping center in the state. (There are stores all over the country and 14 international shops.)
See’s is far from the most popular candy brand in America — that title belongs to Mars and Hershey’s. Fans of higher-end chocolates, like Godiva and Vosges, and local favorites Compartes and LetterPress, may look down on See’s as something from another time: old-fashioned, quaint and just a tad too sweet. But fans of See’s Candies are passionate about their Bordeaux chocolates, molasses chips and peanut brittle.
Something special happens when you walk into a See’s shop. Each one, regardless of the location, feels exactly the same. Brightly lit and smelling of toasted nuts, chocolate and vanilla, the stores beckon with the promise of nostalgia. The pristine white walls and the glowing display cases are the best kind of respite from reality. Candy is ostensibly what you came in for, but each trip is a way to connect with the person you were when you first tried See’s.
See’s CEO and President Pat Egan says, “This should be our best year ever from a sales standpoint,” with 1 billion pieces of candy produced. Ecommerce for the brand has doubled in the last two years, and the company expects to reach 2.2 million orders this year, most of them shipped in the next few weeks.
The candy was an important fixture in my childhood, each piece a condensed, sugar-filled memory of Friday afternoon surprises, family trips to the mall, birthday and anniversary celebrations. This was the candy we brought to relatives’ houses for the holidays. At Hanukkah, we opened the Nuts and Chews box and tried to guess which piece was what. My sister took bites out of half of the pieces on many occasions, looking for the milk Butterchew. She put the uneaten halves back in the box. I was mildly disturbed by this but ate her leftovers anyway.
Sometimes (OK, often) I crumpled the brown paper candy cups and stuck them between my grandmother’s couch cushions. (Sorry, Grandma.)
A stop at See’s was mandatory every time we went to the mall. I often chose the pieces that would last the longest: a butterscotch lollipop or a Molasses Chip. For the latter, I’d take my time licking off all of the chocolate before biting into the chip. Everyone in the family left the store with at least two samples.
By the first night of Hanukkah this year, there will be two Nuts and Chews boxes on the dining room table after latkes in the house where I grew up. Next summer, there will be 10 more Scotchmallows, tucked into two paper bags on the breakfast nook.
I’ve sampled bean-to-bar chocolate all over the world and tried desserts from renowned pastry chefs. I’ve sampled and written about my fair share of candy. But the chocolate I want most, the one that makes me think of my family and transports me to the simpler, before times, is always See’s.