Hand-dipping chocolate strawberries a time-honored tradition at Concord candy shop

  • Only a few gift bags of Valentine’s Day chocolates remained on a shelf at Granite State Candy Shoppe in downtown Concord on the day before the holiday, Feb. 13, 2018. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Dark chocolate is heated and stirred at Granite State Candy Shoppe in downtown Concord the day before the Valentine’s Day, Feb. 13, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A heart-shaped box made of chocolate is seen for sale at Granite State Candy Shoppe in downtown Concord on the day before Valentine's Day, Feb. 13, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Day is here, and, that means a busy time for Concord candymakers.

While most of the production and packaging of red chocolate boxes and bags of pink candies has long been completed at Granite State Candy Shoppe, its chocolate-dipped strawberries require a different approach.

“We like them to be really fresh,” said General Manager Tal Smith on Tuesday, as a steady stream of customers moved through the Concord store. “Generally, people celebrate Valentine’s Day either the day before or day of – depending on their schedules – so we like to have the berries nice and fresh for whenever they need it.”

It’s a time-honored tradition at one of the few businesses left in the state still producing handmade chocolates. Granite State Candy has been located at the same spot on Warren Street since 1927 and is still owned and managed by the Bart family. In 2004, the store and kitchen were renovated, but some of the original candymaking equipment is still in use today.

And while the store has been around for a while, one look at the sparse stock remaining on some of the shelves the day before Valentine’s Day can tell you the candies themselves don’t stick around for long.

But shoppers with any lingering doubts about the freshness of the chocolates need only walk to the interior window at the back of the store to see production manager Caleb Ruopp working with trays of ripe berries dipped in dark chocolate.

Two at a time, one in each hand, he dipped the fruit, let the chocolate drip, then shook off the excess before setting them on a tray. From there, the strawberries moved to a fridge where they would cool and harden before being boxed up to fulfill order after order.

Ruopp and other dippers would repeat the process with milk chocolate and white chocolate – some will get stripes – into the afternoon until fruit supplies were exhausted, only to repeat the process Valentine’s Day morning with a new shipment.

“We go through quite a bit,” Smith said.

In total, hundreds of strawberries will be dipped and drizzled with few leftovers. They are a top seller at the family-run store, which is buzzing this time of year, along with area florists and jewelers.

The National Retail Federation’s annual survey of Valentine’s Day spending reports that 55 percent of U.S. adults will spend an average of $143.56 on gifts for loved ones, family, friends and pets for this year’s holiday.

For those with a sweet tooth, another top seller at the candy shop is the grab-and-go chocolate heart boxes.

“Those tend to go very quickly,” Smith said.

But for the past few years, customers have had the option of creating their own heart boxes – picking individual gourmet chocolates from the case or even from the bulk candy options around the store.

“People get really creative with what it is they’re looking for, and I think it’s a great personal touch that they get to put on their gifts for people.”

The sweetheart season can be hectic, but a tray of chocolate bunnies spotted in the production facility hints at the season that rivals Christmas as the busiest time of the year for Granite State Candy Shoppe: Easter.

Better get hopping.

(Elizabeth Frantz can be reached at efrantz@cmonitor.com or on Twitter