We arrived at the McCrea’s Candies kitchen early on a weekday morning. Spring sunlight spilled through the windows as a biting chill still lingered outside. Though early, the kitchen was already in motion, preparing for the day’s batch of caramel sauce. Jim, the owner’s neighbor and also head of Operations, cheerfully greeted us and welcomed us into this caramel laboratory.
The majority of the team was already hard at work. Anna, their “Sugar Alchemist and Chocolatier” was stirring the caramel sauce while Jim rolled the previous day’s caramel batch into long coils, readying them for the wrapping machine. Pots, pans and a bounty of kitchen utensils hung from metal racks while boxes of the eye-catching McCrea’s Caramel tubes created a wall that just about separated the marketing folks from the kitchen. A wall of boxes may have physically divided them, but the staff at McCrea’s are a close-knit group, family even. See, the beauty of McCrea’s starts with the owners – a husband and wife duo – Jason and Kate McCrea, two passionate and creative individuals who have given us New Englanders one of the sweetest gifts.
The science to making caramel is, well, a science. A gentle balance between ingredients and heat yields the perfect outcome, an outcome that Jason and Kate McCrea have been working years to perfect. McCrea’s Candies was founded in 2009, when Jason was the unfortunate victim of the recession. Fortunately for us, this gave him the opportunity to tinker in the kitchen and test caramel recipes. Why caramel? Intrigued by the science behind the confection, Jason was able to apply his degrees in biology and chemistry to produce these delectable treats. After sharing this creation with friends, orders and personal requests started rolling in. People were hooked, and so were the McCrea’s.
Not long after Jason took over the home kitchen, Kate found herself right by his side, also having been the victim of the recession. The duo saw opportunity, and the chance to turn the home operation into something greater. Since then, McCrea’s has become the go-to for slow-cooked and handcrafted caramels in New England. From their Hyde Park kitchen and office, the team, which has since grown to over 7 employees, concepts, cooks, tests, wraps, rolls, and delivers some of the finest caramels in the region.
Like previously mentioned, the process for making caramel is a tricky one. It’s a finicky confection that some even say relies best on intuition or by going with your eye as opposed to reading off a recipe card. For the caramel rookie like myself, it seems to be a gentle balance of heat, patience and vigilance. Staying focused is key… as your batch of caramel can go from spot-on to spoiled in a matter of seconds.
Few ingredients are actually required to make caramel, but the McCrea’s not only use the finest, high-quality and pure ingredients, they’re not afraid to mix things up a bit. This is evident in the unexpected and unique flavors pairings to this classic candy. Rosemary Truffle Sea Salt, Tapped Maple, Ginger Fusion and a customer favorite, Black Lava Sea Salt wonderfully compliment the more traditional flavors of Classic Vanilla and Deep Chocolate.
On the morning of our visit, Jim was preparing a batch of the Black Lava Sea Salt to wrap – lucky for us, we were able to taste-test the batch before it went out the door. And trust that it was delicious! A burst of sweet caramel laced with the delicate notes of sea salt immediately awakened our early-morning and groggy senses. But, we aren’t the only judges of this; the team has recently been awarded a Good Food Award for the mouth-watering confection, an honor only awarded to those food providers that meet responsible food production standards and superior taste.
Further making their process unique, the McCrea’s rely on an early 20th century refurbished and fully-functioning wrapping machine originating from Springfield, Massachusetts. The bright red machine looks to be a complicated heap of metal as it’s open-air gears spin methodically and a noisy clang fills the shop. With a little directional guidance by Jim to assure nothing goes amiss, the morning’s batch of hand-rolled caramel has been neatly sealed in a cellophane wrapper in a matter of seconds.
McCrea’s Candies is a company that we are excited to watch grow. From their humble kitchen in Hyde Park they turn out some of the most amazing and mouth-watering treats. Currently their flavor roster rounds out at 10 – we’d be lying if we said we hope it stays that way – truthfully, our thought is the more the merrier. With Kate’s ability to unite unique ingredients and Jason’s all-around caramel know-how, why stop there?
t.e.l.l. New England is a quarterly digital publication consistently delivering unique stories from New England by New Englanders. Stories by co-founders Jennifer Bakos and Ashley Herrin.