Only a few days left until Valentine’s Day.  You know what that means.  Sugared delights.  But like candy corn at Halloween, and fruitcake at Christmas, February 14th has its own traditional treat that <1% of the population of North America actually eats.  Those ubiquitous crappy candy hearts with messages on them like Be Mine, and Love U.  A love child of cardboard and a lump of sugar from grandma’s tea set, they are probably the least seductive treat on the planet.  Perhaps this year, you could up your game.

Rooted hit the road looking for a local purveyor of sweets that are beautiful, individually hand crafted, and made with love.  Something your Valentine would swoon over.  Enter Ana Garza.  Ana is the proprietor of Mom’s Candy Apples, right on the Yakima Valley Highway in Sunnyside.  Considering we live deep in apple country here in the Yakima Valley, Ana’s is the only shop of its kind.  Her original Tamarindo Apple took the area by storm about five years ago.  She saw the opportunity, reached for the brass ring, and has been growing ever since.

Born and raised in Sunnyside, she was introduced to her signature apple while living in Texas.  When she came home she made it for friends and family, who thought it was so great they encouraged her to sell them.  So, she did.  She would make 100 a day and hit the streets, selling them anywhere she could—parking lots, car washes, ranches and fruit warehouses—all over.  She says sometimes she would sell out in less than a couple hours, and sometimes she would be out hustling her apples for nearly eight hours.  She worked hard and gained a following, and about six months later was able to open her brick and mortar shop.

People wanted caramel as well.  She went with it. After experimenting with some store-bought caramels, she quickly determined that the only way she was going to get the superior taste she was looking for was by making it herself.  Through trial and error, she taught herself to make caramel with a flavor and consistency that was just right.  But it didn’t end there.  Her experimentation continued, and soon Ana had over 30 varieties of candied apples, replete with various chocolates, nuts, candy bars, cookies, and the kitchen sink, in combinations of all kinds.  She gets her apples by the case at Moxee’s Olympic Fruit, and uses all Granny Smith, but she said that if you brought her a specific apple type that you were wanting dressed up, she would do that happily.

Aileen and I walk into the shop and are hit right away with the smell of melted sugar and the sound of crinkling cellophane.  A group of women are in the back in various stages of assemblage.  Stick, dip, roll and wrap, they were a microburst of activity in the otherwise calm of the candy store.  Ana greets us warmly and comes to the counter to speak with us.  Her story is a remarkable one.  She marvels that she is a one of a kind business in such an apple dense area, but doesn’t complain.  “God was saving it for me,” she beams.  She generously gives us each a taste.  We choose the S’more apple and the Candied Tamarindo apple.  Both were truly wonderful.  I’ve had gourmet candy apples in the past that were better looking than tasting, but these were amazing.  The softness of the marshmallow with the graham and chocolate against the mellow sweet-tart of the apple was perfect.  In the other, the tamarind flavor was distinct with just a hit of pepper, that and the candied sweet of the coating paired awesomely with the firm, moist fruit.

She has a few other tricks up her sleeve as well.  Chocolate covered strawberries, dipped pretzels and cookies, nut clusters and snack mixes—Ana’s got it going on, and she’ll individualize a gift basket just for you.  She takes orders for fundraisers, giving organizations a generous cut of the sales, and will customize trays of her apples, all sliced up and ready to eat, for any event.

It hasn’t always been easy, but Ana works hard and thinks big.  She just opened a second shop in Weslaco, Texas, and has further expansion on her mind.  She feels blessed that as a single mother of two daughters, she can support her family and do something she loves.  Her failures have contributed immeasurably to her success, she told us, and she never thought that candy apples would be her main path in life; but the road opened up before her, and she ran.  Lucky for us apple lovers.

This year, free yourself and your loved one from those torturous, dry little hearts and go for something more alluring.  Something sumptuous and beautiful and delicious, and worthy of Valentine’s Day. Or any day for that matter.  We should all be having an apple a day.  Why not let an expert gussy that fruit up, and simply enjoy.

Mom’s Candy Apples is located in Sunnyside at at 317 Yakima Valley Highway.

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