The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, building off the success of its inaugural event last fall, invited media, academics, members of the food and foodservice industry, students and food enthusiasts to come together for a day-long event, entitled: “Sweets: A Journey Through Midwestern Dessert Traditions,” a program about the history of sweets in the Midwest, including important dessert traditions that began in small towns and big cities here in the Midwest.
The first morning panel of the symposium, “Family Ties to Sweets” presented Ray Elliot, author-publisher of The Evolution of the Heath Candy Bar, founded in Robinson, IL. Heath first began as a dairy, who then opened a pharmacy-soda fountain to sell their ice cream. The shop’s candy went national when the military bought Heath bars for WWII troop ration kits. Joining Ray is Tom and Amy Wertheim, of the R.G.W. Candy Company, who talk about their small, farm-based batch candy company founded in 1942. Tom & Amy share stories of what it means to be a member of a family-only business and how they have conquered roadblocks to succeed in the highly competitive market of confections.
Ray Elliott grew up near Robinson, Illinois, where the Heath candy bar was created. The Marine veteran worked as a prison counselor and taught high school and college English and journalism. He helped Richard Heath write Bittersweet: The History of the Heath Candy Company. Ray has also authored Wild Hands Toward the Sky and Iwo Blasted Again, as well as numerous magazine articles and newsletters. He is a board member of the James Jones Literary Society and the Illinois Center for the Book.
R.G.W. Candy Company was founded in 1948 by Robert (Bob) Wertheim as a means to share his knowledge and love of candy making with family and friends. Made primarily at Christmastime, Bob was a beloved character known for trying innovative combinations of flavors and ingredients. Continuing the tradition started by his father, Tom Wertheim jokingly describes the candy business as a “hobby run amok” with production now a 12-month endeavor. Using a recipe book last printed in 1908, Tom’s specialty is creating candies last found at the turn-of-the century ~ candies that are made without preservatives, colorings, or unnatural flavorings.
Amy Wertheim continues the tradition as the 3rd generation of R.G.W. Candy Company, having learned the trade at her grandfather’s knee beginning at the age of 18 months. With a background in PR & Marketing, there isn’t a candy that Amy can’t justify for consumption! Her life has truly been a love affair with chocolate which she enjoys sharing with others.
Recorded Saturday, April 05, 2008 at Kendall College.