Candy Cane Baskets Bring Sweet Success

November 23, 2010

By Jessica Mozo

Candy Cane Baskets

Old-fashioned candymaking is alive and well in Bristol. Watch the Ratliffs create their sugary treats, candy cane baskets, in a video here, or read on for more about their candy.

If you’d walked the streets of downtown Bristol, TN back in the 1930s and ’40s, chances are the sugary smell of candy in the making would have hung in the air.

“Bristol was a candy-making mecca from the ’20s to the’50s. At one time there were nine candy companies here, but now that number is down to two,” says Ken Ratliff, owner of the longstanding Ratliff Candy Co. “The altitude and humidity here is just right for making stick candy.”

Ken and Mike Ratliff, Ratliff Candy Company, TN

Carrying on the Candy-Making Tradition
While most of the old-time candy makers have closed up shop over the last few decades, Ratliff and his son, Mike, are carrying on the town’s tradition of making and selling hard candies in five flavors: peppermint, wintergreen, lemon, strawberry and peanut butter.

“My mother and father, Lewis and Hattie Ratliff, started the company back in 1952, and my dad delivered their candy to mom-and-pop stores in East Tennessee and West Virginia,” Ratliff says. “They made peppermint stick candy, peanut squares, coconut candy and fudge.”

Making Ratliff Candy Cane Baskets

Edible Gifts Make a Real Treat
Today, Ratliff Candy only makes hard stick candy, but they put an unusual twist (literally!) on an old favorite. Using the same ingredients and old-fashioned techniques Lewis and Hattie used in the 1950s, Ken and Mike knead, pull and roll miles of candy “logs” into unusual products such as candy cane baskets, candle holders, cups and other functional odds and ends.

“A lot of people decorate with them at Christmas, and the tradition is to break it and eat it once the festivities are over. They’re completely edible and have no preservatives,” Ratliff says. “Other people keep them from year to year. One lady called and said she had hers for 15 years before it broke, and several have told me they lasted eight to 10 years.”

While Christmas is the busiest season for the candy cane baskets, the Ratliffs also make them in pastel colors and different flavors at Easter and other holidays.

Ken’s parents gave him the idea for the edible artwork, but he and Mike have perfected it over the last 40 years. To get the baskets to stay together, for example, they’ve learned to cook the candy to a certain temperature before cooling and molding it so it won’t get sticky or melt.

Ken and Mike Ratliff, Ratliff Candy Company, TN

“My mom and dad played around with the technique and made a few candy baskets for my sisters and I to give as gifts to our teachers,” he recalls. “I took over the business in 1970, and it just expanded by word of mouth. At our peak season, we made 35,000 to 40,000 candy cane baskets a year.”

Ken and Mike Ratliff, Ratliff Candy Company, TN

Big Success for a Small Business
Over the years, Ratliff Candy has downsized, not wanting to lose the charm of handmade candy baskets to machine-made products.

“We don’t want to be in the Walmart and Sam’s Club market,” Ratliff says. “We take pride in our work, and if we did it any faster, we couldn’t offer the same quality. Every basket is a work of art – no two are exactly the same.”

Keeping a low profile hasn’t hurt their sales any, though. The Food Network caught wind of Ratliff Candy’s unusual products five years ago and sent a crew to Bristol to feature them in a Thanksgiving special, which has replayed on national television around the holiday every year since then.

 

The Ratliffs have also had the honor of providing holiday décor for the White House. During the Carter administration, White House officials bought enough candy cane baskets to decorate 16 rooms.

“It’s tough being a small business, but it’s rewarding,” Ratliff says. “I really enjoy the stories we hear from our customers. A lady called once saying her basket was disintegrating, and the hole in it was getting bigger by the day. We couldn’t figure out why, but she later called back and said she discovered her poodle had been licking it in the same place every day, and she finally caught him in the act.”

Ratliff says his job is also rewarding because of the creativity it involves.

A Tisket, a Tasket, a Tasty Candy Basket
You can order candy cane baskets from Ratliff Candy at their website. Orders ship in three to four days and can be placed online or by calling 800-743-2271.

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published.
* Required fields

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Comments

  1. LINDA HEARD , OZARK MO says:

    i would like to order sone of the baskets, but dont seem to find a price and any other pictures . can you help me out . linda

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Linda,
      You can find pricing information as well as other images of Radcliff Candy Company’s products on its website: https://ratliffcandy.com/. Orders can also be placed by phone at 800-743-2271. Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  2. susie johnson monroe wash says:

    I have been buying and using your baskets for years both for myself, family and all my friends. They are the best ever. Thanks keep up the good work. Susie

  3. Martha Wolfe says:

    United Way of Williamson County is having a fundraising luncheon on Feb. 10 with Mrs. Haslam as speaker. We have a silent auction as part of the event and wish to have an auction basket of Tennessee-made products. Would you consider donating one of your baskets for this event? I can send all information to you immediately.
    I am co-chair of the committee responsible for the auction baskets for this 2012 event. Thank you.

  4. melanie hayes says:

    do u have the larger basket that is bigger than 8×8 I jus ordered 2 of them from u and if u have the larger ones I want to place another order with u

  5. Can I order candy cane trees ? says:

    I have,given the baskets for years, but cannot find trees,on your
    Web site …thanks

  6. connie montgomery says:

    My sister and I owned a business for 20 yrs. in Opelika, AL and sold your baskets through someone in B’ham, AL. My daughter took my granddaughter today to enroll her for kindergarten at the school that my children attended. The lady who took her application told my daughter that she still puts out her candy cane basket that I gave her one yr. and her grandchildren love it. I believe that must have been around 1986-89. Nice to know that your product has held for that long!! We also used to get your lemon and lime baskets during Easter. I’ve eaten a lot of your broken baskets and would love to have another one!

  7. Kim Collier says:

    I visited Ken in Bristol, TN this year to purchase the candy baskets. I admire this lost art and wish Ken all the best. I bought 32 baskets this year. I will be back next year for more!!

  8. Suzanne says:

    When I lived in Bristol, 49 years ago, our class would take field trips to your store. I have never forgotten watching the candy being made. I was under 8 at the time so that shows how much you made an impression on me. Thank you so much for the wonderful memories. I can see it like it was yesterday.