After years of stocking “old-timey” things at Black Barn Produce, owners Steve and Marla Carter have learned there is no substitute for the flavors of the past at Christmas time.
“We’ve listened to our customers — what they wanted and couldn’t get. Over the years, we’ve found most fond memories are in food items,” he said, sitting at a checkerboard table and enjoying a quick lunch before resuming tasks to prepare for a Sunday afternoon visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
As the conversation ranged from politics and popcorn to traditional candy manufacturers and home remedies, Carter said this year’s Christmas customers have been filling gift baskets with things that were once easy to find, but have since become scarce in modern-day America.
The country store’s shelves are now stocked with everything from sugar plums to gummi “Rain forest frogs,” along with glass jars and wooden barrels filled with individually wrapped treats once called “penny” candies and sold by the pound.
Candy canes, cream-filled chocolate drops, mixed nuts, two-pound peppermint sticks, as well as bite-sized Bit O’ Honey and Atkinson’s Peanut Butter Bars, BB Bats, caramel bullseyes, Mary Janes, Kits and Brach’s jelly nougats are cited among the “things that are back in your memory ... what you got back then,” he said.
“Of all the penny candies we have, the little round peppermints — the Jumbo Mint Ball — is number one at this time of year,” he said, quickly adding Bit O’ Honey and the Atkinson Peanut Butter Bars as close contenders. Sugar-free versions of several old-time favorites, Chick-O-Sticks and Atkinson Peanut Butter Bars in particular, are also extremely popular for customers with diabetic concerns.
“And, you know chocolate is a big deal at Christmas —any kind of chocolate,” he said, adding the season also brings demand for seasonal candies including “broken peanut butter sticks,” and even traditional rock candy used as the foundation of traditional cough syrup recipes.
“At one time we thought Christmas had to be complex, but it doesn’t,” he said. “Memories are what you’re looking for.”
Working nearby to prepare an order of freshly baked and decorated sugar cookies, Mrs. Carter listened to her husband talking, rolled her eyes and shook her head while saying a silent prayer that some of the topics discussed over lunch were not being written about.
Sugar cookies have dominated much of her holiday, she said, explaining she makes each batch as the orders come in. The sugar cookies have become an extremely popular item for school fundraisers throughout the year, she said, although the holidays increase demand dramatically.
“They’re just the old-fashioned decorated sugar cookies. We’re just the old-fashioned Christmas here,” she said with a big smile, noting people will be picking up their sugar cookies right up until the last minute on Christmas eve. Each order requires a 24-hour notice, she added.
Inspecting the lids on the candy jars, she paused at a container of what looked exactly like small chunks of shiny, washed coal.
“If you’re going to get coal in your stocking, this is definitely the kind to get,” she said, offering a taste of the Coal Choc-O-Rocks with a flavor similar to M&M candies.
Customers have also discovered the Black Barn is also the place to find “old timey” things such as swing-away can openers, penetrating salves, organic pet shampoos, grain mills, mandolin slicers and apple peelers as well as tubs of top-quality spices, candy-making supplies and equipment, juice-sweetened jams and jellies and apple butters for people who can’t consume added sugars, sausage seasonings, egg noodles, grains, flavored cappuccino formulas, gourmet mustards, salsas, dry mixes for things including cheddar biscuits, a staggering variety of dried beans and a selection of gourmet popping corn.
“We had a call this morning asking if we have salt cure. They had just killed a hog,” he said, moments after pulling a jar of tart cherry juice from a shelf and proclaiming, “This is the gout buster, right here.”
One item which had been subject to sporadic sales recently became so popular, the Carters now have trouble keeping up with demand. They explained it all began when a local church member tried their dandelion jelly to combat a sore throat.
“She had a cough and couldn’t sing in church,” he said as his wife noted dandelion is often used in traditional remedies for coughs and colds. “She tried the dandelion jelly and it worked so well, now the entire church is using it.”
Black Barn Produce is closed on Wednesday, and open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every other day except Sunday, when the doors are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.