Garamel Caramels take junior high recipe to wider audience

Gary Fisher of Holdingford has taken a recipe for caramels he received in junior high “boys’ chef” class and expanded it from gifts for family members to selling his caramels in area shops.
Gary Fisher of Holdingford has taken a recipe for caramels he received in junior high “boys’ chef” class and expanded it from gifts for family members to selling his caramels in area shops.

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Gary Fisher of Holdingford learned to make caramels while in boys’ chef class at Jordan Junior High School in Minneapolis.

“I always liked to cook,” he said. “One thing I liked about the class was that it was right after lunch; if I didn’t have anything to eat for lunch, there was always something in class.”

Fisher started making the recipe at home and memorized it. He first made caramels as Christmas gifts for family members. He personalized the original recipe by making a few small changes.

“Somewhere between the third and 10th year I gave up on the thermometer and just used the water drop test,” Fisher said. “If it gets too hot, it still tastes fine, but it gets too hard.”

Fisher always waited until the first snow of the winter before making his first batch of caramels.

“Then I could set it outside and let it be cooled by God and have that extra blessing,” he said.

Fisher and his wife, Melanie, found a house in Holdingford not long after they were married.

Then one year his wife wanted to make some caramels for a friend prior to the first snow. That broke the tradition, and he doesn’t stick to it any more.

Over the years, many times he heard that he should sell the caramels. When unemployment gave him the time to do it, he started at the Holdingford Farmers Market in 2011. He sold about 47 packages of five candies.

“From there, I was able to get into the Avon Farmers Market at the end of the season,” he said.

He sold at the St. Joseph Farmers Market winter season and then in Avon and Cold Spring during summer 2012.

“Each time, I offer free samples,” he said. “On the absolute slowest day, 30 percent of the people taking a sample will buy, with sales sometimes as high as 45 or 50 percent.”

Originally calling his business “Gary’s Caramels,” the name evolved into “Garamel Caramels.” It just happened that the name “Garamel” is a combination of Gary’s name and his wife, Melanie’s.

Fisher then discovered that since “Garamel” is not a word, “it shoots you right to the top of any Google or Bing search,” he said.

“I’ve come to know that I’m not the one in charge; God’s in charge,” said Fisher. “Too many things have happened that I had no control over.”

In September 2012, Fisher was looking for a certified kitchen to make caramels so they could be sold by retail businesses.

“People told me they’d sell these in their store, but that I needed to use a certified kitchen,” he said. “Just in passing, I mentioned to someone at work that I was looking for a certified kitchen, and he told me that he was on the board of the Upsala Community Center, which has one.”

Fisher has been able to use that kitchen, only 10 miles from his home, for a reasonable price.

He found his printer by looking in the yellow pages. Mailing labels, package inserts and other promotional materials have been printed. The printer works with the people who maintain his Web site.

“Around Christmas, my wife put a little blurb on her Facebook page about the caramels, and no sooner had she clicked on ‘post’ than she had three orders,” Fisher said. “And her friends came back for more.”

There are no preservatives in the caramels, which have a shelf life of two to three months, depending on the batch. They last longer in the freezer.

“I will pull them off the shelf if they get old,” he said.

One of Fisher’s co-workers puts half of a caramel in her coffee every morning. She thanked him profusely, saying it is “like a Calgon moment.”

His printer said, “You don’t just eat a Garamel, you become a Garamel.”

“Another person made a Dutch apple pie with pieces of caramel inside and some on the crust,” he said. “My wife made one and it was very good. People add them to s’mores and that’s really good too; you definitely get your sugar high that way.”

It takes Fisher three hours from start to finish to complete one batch. He’s learned to overlap batches, starting the next batch after setting one out to cool.

“I like making caramels,” he said. “But my absolute favorite thing is handing a sample to someone and watching the pleasure on their face and their eyes rolling as they enjoy it, while their brain is searching to find something they can compare it to.”

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