JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Warren and Jill Schimpff's red-hot business began more than 120 years ago downtown, just north of the Ohio River across from Louisville, Ky.
Schimpff's Confectionery (812-283-8367, schimpffs.com) began producing Cinnamon Red Hots from the location in 1891, which makes it one of the nation's oldest family-owned candy shops. Also in the building: a free museum of candy history and adjacent soda fountain with lunch counter.
The fourth-generation business cranked out a record 15,000 pounds of the cinnamon hard candy in 2011, and visitors can witness production from start to finish. If one of the owners isn't providing a 45-minute narration, a store video explains the process.
Antique equipment still turns a hot and sugary syrup into brittle squares of the spicy red treats. Handwritten recipes for "boiled sweets," from Warren's great-grandfather, are on display under glass and remain relevant. Back in the day, the basic recipe for hard candy would be varied by adding essential oils — peppermint, anise, clove, cinnamon or root beer — the same flavors that pharmacists used for medicinal purposes.
On a wall next to the candy-makers are 110 pairs of brass rolls for shaping hard candies. Some are from the 1860s. "I wanted to make candy like my grandfather, so I started collecting them," explained Warren Schimpff, who has a degree in environmental chemistry and previously analyzed California water quality for a living.
The couple's garage turned into a candy laboratory before they returned to the Midwest in the 1990s to take over the family business and live above the candy shop, just as Warren's ancestors did.
Besides Cinnamon Red Hots, they make 20 flavors of fish candy, which is a reference to the hard candy's shape and the shop's proximity to the river. Another specialty: Modjeskas, caramel-covered marshmallows that are wrapped in waxed paper and named after a long-ago Polish actress. Chocolate also swirls in metal tubs, ending up as truffles, turtles and more.
Little from the museum's collection — glass candy containers to vintage candy advertising — comes from the original store. "Grandma Schimpff went out the of second-story window on a rowboat" during a 1937 flood, Warren said, and much of the equipment vanished.
In 2013, Schimpff museum artifacts will be a part of "Sweet! Making, Wrapping, Enjoying Chocolate and Candy," an exhibit at the Center for History in South Bend, Ind. (574-235-9664, centerforhistory.org). The show opens Feb. 9.