Reporting Jason DeRusha
One sector of the economy that has been holding its own is the candy industry. Pearson’s Candy Company in St. Paul has been producing the Salted Nut Roll for nearly 80 years.
Each day, 225,000 Salted Nut Rolls roll down conveyors inside Pearson’s Candy Company on West 7th Street in St. Paul.
“It’s a magical business,” said Larry Hassler, who bought Pearson’s nearly 30 years ago.
The Nut Roll was first manufactured in Pearson’s Minneapolis facility in 1933. It was called the Choo-Choo because there were many salted nut rolls at the time. The original Choo-Choo cost a nickel.
“The center is the beginning,” said David King, assistant production superintendent at Pearson’s.
The candy center is made with corn syrup, sugar, and water, cooked into a slurry then cooled over a huge metal drum. As that blends together, caramel starts cooking at 241 degrees.
Then a mixture of, sugar, water, milk, vegetable oil, corn syrup goes into kettles. That too goes over a large metal drum, with cold water being circulated inside to cool it down to 97 degrees.
The temperature while cooking the candy is very important.
“If the caramel is not the right temp the peanuts will fall off,” said King.
Upstairs, 1,900-pound bags of US #1 Virginia peanuts, grown in the Carolinas, empty onto a conveyor belt. They use 200 tons of peanuts every month.
After this step, the pieces are ready to go downstairs, where they’ll be assembled into the Salted Nut Roll. The contents are pressed into a mold made from a bed of starch.
“The liquid center sits overnight to have some of the moisture wicked away,” King explained. “It’d be impossible to assemble the candy bar with a liquid center.
The center gets covered with the caramel and coated with peanuts, and then it’s all rolled together into a tight roll.
The last part of the candy bar assembly was so secret, King wouldn’t let us show it to WCCO-TV viewers.
“We need some secrets,” said King.
Once the candy is ready, they’re encased in those distinctive red wrappers and two employees prepare them to be sold.
Two-hundred people in St. Paul create approximately 50 million Salted Nut Rolls a year, according to the company. The recipe for the confection hasn’t changed in 80 years.