Candy makers enjoy annual stop at Duluth's train museumOn the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Grambsch Candy Kitchen in “Depot Square” of Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum springs to life as Ben Grambsch’s descendants make batches of candy.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
andy maker Ben Grambsch died of a heart attack while he was delivering candy canes during the Christmas season in 1966.
The candy store and factory that the Grambsch family had run in Loyal, Wis., since 1924 quickly closed, and the Grambsches’ old-fashioned hard candies have disappeared.
Except on one day of the year.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Grambsch Candy Kitchen in “Depot Square” of Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum springs to life as Grambsch’s descendants make batches of candy canes, ribbons and buttercups in five flavors.
How did a candy shop from central Wisconsin become reincarnated in Duluth?
It started in the mid-1970s, said Ben’s grandson, Bob Grambsch, when people from the railroad museum were looking to fill storefronts in its mock village on the ground floor of the Depot. Clyde Grambsch, Ben’s son, heard about it and suggested the idled candy equipment would be ideal.
“When he found out exactly what it was going to be used for, he said, ‘Will you put my dad’s name on it?’ They said, ‘Sure, we’ll put your dad’s name on it’,” Bob Grambsch related. “Well, then he kept the price down to almost a donation.”
That might have been that, except that “my dad, he always had big ideas,”
Clyde Grambsch wondered if they could make candy in the museum.
And so, on a bitterly cold Saturday in January 1982, family members arrived in Duluth and made candy. “None of us had done it for nearly 20 years, and we were all out of practice,” said Carmella Anderson of Minneapolis, Clyde Grambsch’s daughter. “And cold, oh my gosh, we froze all the way home. But that went really well, so we decided to come back.”
They came back for Railroad Days in the summer, but the candy proved impossible to work in the humidity. So they settled on the post-Thanksgiving date, and family members have made candy in Duluth on that Saturday for 29 years since.
It’s a treat for museum guests, who get to watch the art of candy-making and enjoy samples for the price of admission. It’s a treat for the children who come later in the day for the Polar Express, because there’s always candy left for them.
It’s more than that for the Grambsch family.
“We have such a nostalgia trip doing this,” Anderson said. “It’s just been wonderful.”
But something was missing this year: Clyde. At 94, Clyde Grambsch’s legs are failing him, and he couldn’t make the trip, family members said. “He’s really missing being here,” said Gretchen Semler, Carmella’s daughter, Clyde’s granddaughter and Ben’s great-granddaughter.
Four members of the family’s fifth generation also were on hand on Saturday, the youngest being Adriana Semler, 9, whose blond hair was dyed peppermint pink. She cut short an interview when she realized it was her turn to pull candy through the ribbon crimper. The tool, which uses wooden gears to mold the candy into a distinctive shape, was handmade by Ben Grambsch. Almost everything in the Candy Kitchen was.
The family made five 10-pound batches of candy on Saturday. They began by heating six pounds of sugar and four pounds of syrup to 300 degrees, then pouring the batch on a slab where senior family members would work in flavoring and coloring. Depending on the desired color, a batch might be pulled over a large taffy hook attached to a wall. Pulling aerates the candy and produces a lighter color.
The batches are made one flavor at a time, and the preference for flavors can produce family debates.
“My favorite is wintergreen,” said Kim Schandel, editor of the railroad museum’s quarterly newsletter.
“But the best is the clove,” said her husband, Tim Schandel, the museum’s curator.
“No, it’s the sassafras,” said their daughter Mary Sawin, 14. “It’s like root-beer flavored candy. How could you not love it?”
Although the candy is only made one day a year, it lasts longer than that. The various branches of the Grambsch family take some home with them, and there’s usually some left for the Schandels, too, Kim Schandel said.
“I think it’s sentimental,” she said. “This family, this multi-generational family coming together to make this classic candy.”