The homemade candy business was pretty slow through the winter months, and Putnam’s Candy Kitchen always looked forward to Easter. There was a bit of a bump for Valentine’s Day but it was usually pretty much a disappointment. Over all the period from Christmas to Easter was slow and my parents soon learned to close up and go to Florida for a well-earned rest. But when Helen and I took over the business in 1964 that was not an option. We had three children in school and we figured whatever we brought in during those months was better than nothing.

So about the beginning of March we would plan for Easter. Chocolate bunnies, chicks and Easter eggs began to proliferate and took over the shop. It was always a fun time and soon chocolate bunnies large and small began to appear, along with appropriately colored candy eggs, jellybeans and marshmallow chicks and bunnies. With a good supply of different sizes and styles of baskets, we could make up an Easter basket to suit anyone’s pleasure and budget.

Helen’s grandfather, Al Stevenson, was 76 when he died in February of 1950. His store was on Main Street downtown, right between Brown’s Market on the corner and Harold Corthell’s Clothing Store. It was a good location with a lot of foot traffic passing all the time, but as he grew older Mr. Stevenson had cut back a lot on the homemade part, so when my folks bought the business it sort of took on a new life. At Easter time they bought molds for chocolate bunnies and chicks and the windows took on a rather festive atmosphere for the occasion.

I was away at music school in Bangor that winter and carpooled home on weekends with Ken Dickey, who was going to the University of Maine, and I took a turn at tending store on Saturday so my folks could have a day off. So now, instead of me visiting Helen while she tended store for her grandfather, she visited me while I tended store for my folks. The business sort of stayed in the family, and it gave us both a chance to connect with old friends when we were home from school for the weekend. Helen was going to school at Westbrook Junior College in Portland.

My father had grown up in a farming family, and was well organized and self-sufficient in his ways and thinking. It didn’t take long for him to feel hampered by the outdated equipment and small space on Main Street, so he began to look around for a way to expand. It was about then that the new Rockport bypass was built out where Hannaford and Maine Sport are now, and in 1955 Dad bought the piece of land where The First Bank is now, and built something large enough for a candy shop and living quarters for them as well. They moved the business there and changed the name to Putnam’s Candy Kitchen. I finished four years in the Navy that March and came home in time to help do the landscaping around the place before going to college in the fall.

The summer tourist season and Christmas were the life’s blood of the homemade candy business, but the Easter business was always welcome after a long slow winter. The proliferation of life and renewal symbolized by the bunnies, chicks and eggs that was so important to the Christian message was also a shot in the arm for us in the candy shop. It was not as profitable as Christmas, but in some ways it was more enjoyable. All of my family remember it as the best time of the year.

When Dad planned his new location, he first visited other homemade candy shops around, such as Len Libby’s in Portland and Putnam’s Pantry in Massachusetts and absorbed as much as he could of their facilities and procedures, which they were usually glad to share. Then he upgraded the new shop to modern equipment and methods, although he still retained the same basic copper-kettle recipes that people expect from homemade candy.

He replaced the old marble tables with a brand new water-cooled stainless steel table, and a new fondant beater that stirred up 35 pounds of creamy fondant in a few minutes. Then the new hand roll machine dropped uniform cream centers on boards 48 at a time. Those tremendous labor savors enabled him to significantly increase production.

Then the centers went downstairs to the new chocolate room where two 500-pound melters supplied chocolate for the dipping machine (enrober) that ran nearly the whole length of the basement (think of the “I Love Lucy” show where Lucy is overwhelmed with chocolates coming through the machine). My children just laugh when I say they were allowed to eat only one when picking off candy from the machine.

Of course we still had the old hand dipping stations for special dipping uses, like white or colored chocolate and for nut clusters, and there was the deep fryer where we roasted the nuts. What a great aroma in the building when we were roasting nuts. With that smell in the air most customers could not manage to leave without buying a bag, whether cashews, peanuts or mixed nuts. Occasionally Dad would make a batch of doughnuts and fry them in that nut flavored peanut oil. Those were just for the family, but they were the best doughnuts you ever ate.

While some of the work seemed very repetitious, the change of seasons and the large variety made the candy business a very pleasant job. The homemade candy business was always a pleasant job dealing with people who were planning happy occasions, but Easter was especially so as it heralded the rites of spring. For us as well as our customers there was a sense of rebirth and renewal after a long winter, and we all felt the joy of spring and a new hope.

Paul Putnam lives in Rockport. His four volumes of essays, “Thoughts and Reminiscences of a Camden Native,” are available at the Smiling Cow and the Owl and Turtle Bookshop. He can be reached at