This Valentine’s day you could give your sweetie some heavenly candies made in Iowa. The residents at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey spend their days making " Trappistine caramels ." Sisten Kathleen O’Neill is a nun at the Benedictine abbey near Dubuque where candy is their business.
"Historically, all our monasteries were involved in farming," she explains. "For centuries that’s what monasteries did for their work — they did farming, as most people did." The farming economy has changed in this century, most people don’t do that and it’s harder to support an abbey doing it, so many moved into other similar businesses, like food-related industries. This group’s business now is candy.
They start with corn syrup, sugar, cream and butter, with trace amounts of a few other ingredients. Cooking it in batches of about 90 pounds at a time, they mix the ingredients in a big copper kettle, with a beater slowly mixing it over a big gas jet. The product is a popular one, and the Catholic nuns make a lot.
It’s around 70 to 80-thousand pounds a year — roughly forty tons of caramel a year, she says. They also make some mints, melt-away candies and some truffles, but much smaller amounts, she says: "Maybe one or two tons each. Nothing compares with Christmas, for us." Valentine’s day sees a bump in orders, and so does Easter. There are some for Mother’s Day but the nuns don’t ship orders when the weather gets warm, and by May it’s getting close to summer.
"We probably do about 90-percent of our sales in the fall." O’Neill says while the nuns lead lives of prayer and contemplation outside of their work in the kitchens, they have a website, and take credit cards for candy orders.