Indiana Artisan applications are reviewed on four simple criteria. Each is weighted equally, and one is the work’s link with the Hoosier State, making it easy to understand how important a product’s Indiana roots are to the organization. For Jay and Lynn Noel’s application, it was 25 easy points. Gravy. Maybe said more accurately, it was melted caramel.
For more than 125 years, Abbott’s Candies, a well-known Hagerstown brand based largely on caramels cooked in copper pots over open flame, then sliced and wrapped by hand, has used the recipes of W.C. Abbott. Nothing has changed. The caramels are available in additional flavors, but plain remains the favorite. The staff continues to work from a Presbyterian Church, built in 1853 and converted to the Abbott’s factory decades ago. Inside, a large variety of chocolates, with nut, cream and caramel centers are handmade, enrobed in chocolate, hand stringed, cooled, and boxed by hand. And there continues to be just shy of 50 flavors.
“The caramels and chocolates are available for selection at each of our two retail locations,” says owner Jay Noel. That second location is the first indication of change, and change has been good for Abbott’s Candies. More than two decades ago, the Noel’s opened Abbott’s Candy Store in Indianapolis, offering every candy option to a much larger audience.
“Abbott’s Candies’ recipes and the processes of making these popular caramels and chocolates have been the same since the 1890’s when W.C. started making butterscotch in his garage, and then chocolates, and caramels in his restaurant,” Jay said. “This process was then carried on through three generations until the retirement of his granddaughter in 2012.” That’s when big change came to Hagerstown and to the company. Well, not really, but it was seismic in the steady-as-she-goes world of Abbott’s Candies.
Jay and Lynn felt it was important to continue this Indiana tradition enjoyed by millions over the years, including Bob Hope, who was a favorite customer, and they bought the company. They kept the operation in the church-turned-factory in Hagerstown. Themselves fans of tradition, they also kept the small group of employees who worked there, pouring, filling, shaping, cooling, and wrapping each individual handmade creation.
Jay and Lynn remained in Indy, making the drive to Hagerstown many days each week to oversee the daily operations and to continue the family-owned, small company tradition. Taking a cue from W.C. and the Abbott generations that followed him, Jason and Ryan Noel, Jay and Lynn’s sons, joined the candy making business to oversee production management and marketing.
“We continue to make the caramels in 40-pound batches,” Jay said, “And the batch size varies on the chocolates depending on what is being made.” Caramels include whole milk from an Indiana dairy, another link to the state that the Indiana Artisan jury panel appreciated. There’s also evaporated milk, sugar, corn syrup, butter, margarine, water, salt, and soy lecithin.
“There is such an extensive variety of chocolates that the ingredient lists go on and on,” Jay said. Another lengthy list is that of retailers now carrying Abbott’s products. Hospital gift shops, museum stores, resorts, boutique retailers, and major food chains now sell the what W.C. Abbott started and the Noel family has continued – a tradition of high-quality, sumptuous indulgences established years ago in a pre-Civil War Presbyterian Church in Hagerstown, Indiana.
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