Candy is the family business for the Schimpffs who’ve been making sweets since immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1850s.
“Back then it was cheap to get into the candy business,” Jill Schimpff (yes, it’s true there’s only one vowel amongst seven consonants in their name) tells me as her husband Warren pours a thick, scolding hot mixture of glowing bright red “dough” onto a work table and then begins spreading the dough into a large rectangle. “You could set up a tent outside and all you needed was a way to cook and cut the candy.”
As she talks, Warren folds and re-folds the pliable candy and then divides it into strips. It is then fed into an antique candy cutter where it comes out in long strips of tiny fish. These are the confectionary’s signature hard fish candies, this batch flavored with cinnamon, which were made from a recipe belonging to Warren’s great uncle Gus who opened the candy store in 1891 in the Ohio River town of Jeffersonville selling these sweet sweets considered a Southern Indiana specialty.
Each batch makes about 15 pounds and the store sells over 14,000 pounds a year. You do the math – that’s a lot of hard candy but that isn’t all that’s made here. There are all sorts of other hard candies, caramel apples and chocolates as well as another signature goodie dating back to the 1880s – the toffee covered marshmallows called Modjeskas named after the Polish actress Madam Helena Modjeska who performed in the area back then.
Warren, who has a PhD in environmental chemistry and his wife Jill a masters in education, can both be found six days a week at Schimpff’s Confectionary in historic downtown Jeffersonville. The idea, when the couple first took over the store from his Aunt Catherine who died in 1989, was to keep the store in the family until its 100th anniversary. After a decade of commuting from the Los Angeles area where Jill taught at a university and Warren living in the Los Angeles area, Warren worked for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, it became apparent they weren’t emotionally able to let the store be sold even to the most wonderful strangers. So the Schimpffs quit their jobs and moved into living quarters above the store where members of Schimpff family have lived in the since the store first opened. Warren’s dad had been born there.
Under the original tin ceiling at Schimpff’s, glass apothecary jars from the 1930s display candies and a soda jerk whips up root-beer floats, malts and other old time favorites behind the 1940s soda fountain. In a deli case, salads and sandwich fillings are on display. This being Southern Indiana, there’s a bowl of pimento cheese, ham salad and also an olive spread. Next to it is a light green colored mixture. When I ask what it is, Warren tells me it is called Benedictine Spread and is made from a recipe created by Jennie C. Benedict, known as Miss Jennie, a famous Louisville caterer and tea room owner in the late 1800s.
Miss Jennie wrote a cookbook titled The Blue Ribbon Cook Book in 1902 which was in a fourth edition by 1922. It’s that edition that food writer Susan Reigler used to update the most recent edition published by the University of Kentucky Press and the first to include her famous recipe. The book, considered a classic of Southern cookery, contains not only recipes for desserts and entrees but also a glossary, the genteel sounding chapter titled "Sick Room Cookery," cooking tips and a recipe for Miss Jennie’s famous mayonnaise. The following recipes are from her cookbook.
For more information about Schimpff’s, www.schimpffs.com
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons cucumber juice
1 tablespoon onion juice
1 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring
To get the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze juice into a dish. Discard pulp. Do the same for the onion. Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. Using a blender will make the spread too runny."
½ cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add well-beaten eggs and beat until the creamed butter and sugar and eggs are well mixed and the mass is fluffy. Add sifted flour and beat until smooth. Add flavoring. Drop batter from a teaspoon on greased cookie sheet, keeping the cookies at least 2 inches apart for spreading. Bake cookies in a moderate oven, 350 degrees, for 7 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and done in the middle.
Yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 small bottle of olive oil (1/2 cup?)
1 teaspoon mustard
Yolk of raw egg well beaten
Vinegar to taste
White of one egg beaten stiffly
Rub yolk through a sieve. Add mustard, salt and pepper, and raw yolk. Add the oil and the vinegar slowly and lastly the egg white