Raisin Canes at the Doscher Candy Factory

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It may not be Black Friday yet, but one factory of Cincinnati elves has been busy for months hand making a Christmas delicacy.  It’s no small wonder that a guy named Claus started making what is Cincinnati’s oldest and most loved locally manufactured candy cane.   Clauses all over Cincinnati have been handing them out here for over four generations– like the Santa Claus in Kenwood Towne Center, and Santa Claus in the Winter Village in downtown Provident Bank Tower.

Also maker of the famous French Chew, in flavors of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana, Doscher Candies have been making candy canes since Claus Doesher left his uncles’ candy business in 1871 and opened his own factory on 5th street between Broadway and Sycamore.

Claus and younger brother Johann Doescher came to Cincinnati after the Civil War in 1865.   Sons of Johann Hermann Doescher and Margaret Steffens, they came from the village of Grossenheim, near Dresden, in what was then the Kingdom of Hanover, now Lower Saxony.   They came to join their two uncles, Albert Heinrich and Johann David Doescher, whose A & J Doescher Candy Company operated on Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine.   Joined by their two cousins John and Albert, sons of another uncle, Melchior Doescher, they packed into their Uncle John and Aunt Gesina’s house at 34 Jackson Street, with their five other cousins. They were all one big happy German-immigrant candy making family.   But 11 people packed into one apartment wasn’t uncommon then in the very German 10th ward of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.

That was until 1871, when the enterprising Claus decided to open his own candy making business.     To avoid confusing Cincinnatian’s with a sweet tooth, he did his uncles a favor and dropped the ‘e’ from his name, becoming Dosher Candies.     He and Johann summoned their younger brother Heinrich from Grossenheim and the three were off.

One of the first products they made was caramel popcorn, which they sold to a new local team called the Cincinnati Redlegs.     The Doshers where one of the first concession products to be sold in American Baseball, two decades before Cracker Jack was introduced at the 1894 Chicago World’s Fair.   We should be singing “buy me some peanuts and Doscher caramel corn” at the 7th inning stretch here in Cincinnati.

Claus also made several other products at their candy factory, including chewing gum.   Apparently their candy was so good and so highly valued, it was a regular target for thieves in Cincinnati.   The Cincinnati Enquirer reported break-ins at the Doscher factory in 1883, and 1894, where several lots of chewing gum were taken.   At their apex Doscher made nine different candies and employed hundreds of workers.   Now they focus on candy canes and French Chew.

Johann Doscher took over the company after Claus’ death in 1883 and married Claus’s wife, Sophia.   Her sons John and Harry I became partners in the business. In 1896, the Doschers decided to capitalize on to the new Turkish taffy craze that was taking the south of France by storm and developed their recipe for the French Chew.   It was originally sold in big pieces that were broken up in the candy stores and sold by the pound.   After it became popular in Cincinnati – and dental bills went up – it was made into a long bar and wrapped in the now recognizable wrapper with the boy licking his lips.

After Claus’s sons, Harry and John both died in 1939, Harry’s wife Elsie Dosher enterprised and added chocolate and strawberry flavored French Chews. Elsie ran the business herself until her son Harry II joined in 1953 after getting a UC business degree.

Harry II worked the business until his son Harry III, an engineer joined in the late 90s.   Harry III wanted to update the manufacturing from the old taffy pulling machines and copper kettles his great grandfather had used nearly a century before.   Thankfully Harry II prevented that, and they sold the four generation family business to Greg Clark in 2004, who continues to use the old Doscher family recipes and original equipment.   Greg Clark was a candy legacy too – his father was a partner in the Marpo Marshmallow Products company.   Marpo makes the local marshmallow cones popular at swim clubs and candy shops all across the country.

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Third and fourth generation Doschers in 1996, Harry II and Harry II.

Now, getting back to the canes.   People say that they love Doscher candy canes because they’re crunchy and chewy and have a great peppermint flavor. The company attributes this to the fact they they are still handmade and rolled, and the red is not stamped on with dye, like other candy canes.  They have a silver translucent sheen that makes them seem jewel-like.     Dosher makes over a half million candy canes each season at their West Court street factory, where they’ve been since 1946.   Their canes are a big hit at Kroger, who is their largest retailer now.   Quality and the “Made in America” stamp are two big reasons their products sell well at 5 for $3.79 in competition with the 12 for 99 cents versions at WalMart.

Each 90 pound batch of candy canes starts with a mixture of sugar, corn syrup and water, cooked in 100 year old copper kettles.   After being cooled the glob of candy is laid on a metal table. A portion is taken off to be dyed red, and the rest has calcium carbonate added to keep the colors from bleeding together. It is then transferred to a taffy wheel and spun until it’s translucent.   During that process it also gets its peppermint flavor added.   The red portion is added back and the red and white mix gets rolled into the narrow thickness of a cane.   Each cane is hand cut and hooked before cooling and being packaged.

With all that peppermint flavor in house for the candy canes, Doschers has added a season peppermint French at Christmas time, and a green apple flavor for Halloween.

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Few cities are lucky enough to have such a special candy cane making legacy.   And to connect it to one jolly old German Claus – Claus Dosher – is a wonderful story.

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