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Food Find: Ruth's Fine Almond Toffee

Now that's some good toffee. (Julia Ewan --The Washington Post)

The stories behind small food businesses never fail to interest me. They share an element of “I was making this and someone said, ‘You ought to sell it,’ ” yet the details of how they grow and market their products say a lot about the people themselves.

Of course this leads to my most recent discovery: Ruth’s Toffee. I met Ruth Phippeny at a farmers market in Aspen, Colo., where she was offering samples of her Fine Almond Toffee and some very good mint chocolate fudge. Ruth, 56, was born and raised in western Colorado, and now lives on a farm there. Her sister introduced Ruth, then a high-school student, to toffee via a recipe that needed some tweaking. Ruth made and re-made it, and was hooked.

Eventually Ruth was giving her candy away as Christmas presents. When she decided to sell it (after that inevitable urging), she knew mail-order was the way to go. She got an address list from her high-school reunion committee and put out the word to a wider circle of friends.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s, when her husband turned an old bunkhouse on their farm in Bedrock (population: about 10, she says) into a commercial kitchen, so Ruth could make food for sale by the state’s regulations.

Today, Ruth’s range of flavored toffees, cookies, fudges, turtles and sauces are manufactured in her much bigger, new facility in Nucla, about 60 miles west of Telluride with a small retail store in front. Christmas is her busiest season; she sells in a few other stores and in the past five years has graced the farmers markets in Dillon and Vail as well as Aspen. She ships candy to every state in America, and that’s working for her just fine.

Now as far as I can tell, toffee’s made across the United States by producers large and small. Some of it is pretty darn sweet. Some of it tastes pretty stale. A lot of it sticks to your teeth. What I like about Ruth’s almond toffee is its soft snap and pure, buttery flavor. There’s just the right amount of finely crushed almond coating. Ruth says she’s discovered several tricks over the years that make her process more consistent, so the first bite’s as good as whatever’s left in the bottom of the bag or box. Her packaging recommends refrigeration; even when chilled, the toffee is not so hard to bite into.

“I don’t know what causes some kinds of toffee to be sticky,” she told me. “I guess I’m lucky mine isn’t.”

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 25, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, candy  
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