A sugar version of Billy Penn himself, surrounded by donkeys

A sugar version of Billy Penn himself, surrounded by donkeys

Danya Henninger

A Pennsylvania Dutch candy tradition meets the DNC

Christmas in July? At Shane Confectionery, it was easier said than done.

Christmas in July? At Shane Confectionery, it was easier said than done. But in honor of the Democratic National Convention in Philly, the skilled candymakers at the Old City shop pushed their antique equipment to the limit — and pulled it off.

The idea was to make a set of clear toy candies in the shape of blue donkeys, so the Democrats swarming through town could pick them up as one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Shane’s is one of only a handful of places to still make the Pennsylvania Dutch treat, which 18th century Amish kids used to look forward to on Christmas morning. Timing was unfortunate, though, because clear toy candies are notoriously finicky, and not usually made in the summer. Too hot or humid or rainy and the liquid sugar simply won’t cool to a hard, glassy sheen.

But Pavia Burroughs, a graphic designer for the company whose side gig has been to oversee glass toy production almost since brothers Eric and Ryan Berley started it up six years ago, figured out a way.

With the air conditioning in the narrow, second-floor confection kitchen cranked high as it would go, she waited for a day that was relatively dry and slated to be free of the cataclysmic thunderstorms that have been flashing through the area. During the cooler evening hours, once the ice cream production for next-door Franklin Fountain parlor was done for the day, she set up her moulds and got down to business.

Made of a composition of zinc and tin (and properly spelled the British way, she says), the moulds Burroughs uses are the actual same ones used by confectioners centuries earlier.

The first batch of candy moulds came with the 105-year-old candy shop, which the Berleys bought and restored in 2010. A large second trove — including one in the shape of Billy Penn’s namesake — was a lucky get. Lancaster County’s Nancy Fasolt was a clear toy expert (she literally wrote the book on them), and when she went into hospice, her daughters began to sell off her collection. When Eric Berley arrived at the house to purchase a few, he was told he only had a few minutes to select what he wanted, since a “hot shot” collector was due to arrive any minute. Not seeing the William Penn mould on the main table, he ducked into the basement and dug through some drawers. Bingo! He pulled it out and added it to his collection.

Back in Philly, Burroughs laid out her donkey and historical figure moulds, plus a couple elephants, for good measure, brushed them with olive oil, and set to work. Watch how it happens in the video, then swing by to pick up your own.

One more tip: When you hit up Shane’s, don’t miss the incredible housemade caramels, available in approximately a gazillion flavors. Or the beyond-mocha iced coffee made with brewed cacao beans (guaranteed to keep you awake through any political speech).

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