Deborah Dufton has fond memories of making vanilla taffy with her Suzy Homemaker brand taffy puller in the early 1970s, imitating her mother who would make the salty candy from scratch.
“I played with it for years and years,” Dufton said during a recent interview at Fork and Anchor in East Marion. “My mom used to make taffy when I was little. She was a candy fanatic.”
Four decades later, Dufton, now a mother of five herself, is dusting off that skill for her recently launched business North Fork Taffy.
The Duftons previously operated Scrumptious Treat Co., a candy kiosk at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove where they made organic cotton candy, popcorn, candy apples and chocolate-dipped treats. They closed the business in 2012 due to the lengthy commute.
Made with Peconic Bay Sea Salt and available in a variety of flavors, candy lovers can find the taffy on the shelves of local markets, vineyards and farmstands.
While local taffy is a staple for visitors to seaside destinations like Atlantic City or Cape Cod, North Fork Taffy is the only local company making the treat.
Lucy Muellner, co-owner of Fork and Anchor in East Marion, said she likes selling the candy in her Main Road general store, and not just because it evokes memories of her New England childhood.
“[Co-owner Erin Fitzpatrick] and I were both very excited that she was making taffy. It totally makes sense for the region,” said Muellner, a Cape Cod native. “We try to carry as much local products as possible and it’s a delicious product.”
Dufton said she is surprised with how well it has been received.
“I didn’t think I would be making another batch for Fourth of July weekend,” she said on Tuesday, one day before preparing to make another trip to the Massachusetts facility where the product is made.
Dufton, who studied retail sales at Purdue University, travels to Cape Cod via Cross Sound Ferry to the factory where she puts in a 12-hour day making 500 to 600 pounds of taffy.
Batches are cooked in a copper kettle at a low temperature before they are rolled out and cooled on a long table. The taffy is then loaded into the taffy puller before going into a machine known as a Model K Kiss Wrapper where it is cut and individually wrapped in wax paper.
About 66 pieces are then stuffed into a one pound box decorated with company’s pink and white logo designed by Dufton.
Dufton is accompanied on the trips by her 16-year-old son Jack, a Mattituck High School athlete
“The idea started over the winter when my dad [Syd Dufton] brought home a box of taffy from Atlantic City,” Jack said. “On any vacation we would wind up getting taffy, its something we’re used to, we do it a lot and everyone loves candy.”
The younger Dufton assists with cooking, packaging, taking inventory and coming up with new varieties.
“Jack helps me with everything. He really steps up to the plate,” Dufton said.
Still tinkering with the flavors, Dufton said some, like salted caramel and blue raspberry, are already fan favorites. Others, like pistachio and popcorn, failed to catch on.
Look for a new red wine flavor out soon, she said.
And if you know someone selling a Suzy Homemaker taffy puller, give Dufton a call.
“I haven’t been able to find it in years,” she said.