Heide Hooper looked to her past to create Heide’s Gourmet.
When trying to sort out her future, Wrightsville Beach native Heide Hooper looked to her past — a past filled with homemade candies and blooming spring flowers.
In 2002 she decided she would take her father’s advice and do what made her happy. Hooper had fond memories of sitting in her grandmother Nell’s Wilmington kitchen and watching her pull buttermints. A small contingent of Wilmington natives may remember receiving those candies in tin boxes around Christmas time. The family made hundreds and it took hours of labor in the kitchen.
And back in a time when seasons were more palpable, Hooper remembers selling daffodils by the side of the road with her grandfather each spring — another mental still-frame natives might still hold.
It took some time for Hooper to perfect her grandmother’s recipe, but she eventually did. More than 10 years after she started, the candies are now sold at different retailers around the country and a candy kitchen in Chapel Hill makes them giant batches. That doesn’t stop Hooper though from playing with the flavors in her own kitchen.
Beyond the traditional peppermint flavors associated with Christmas, she went beyond and created cheesecake, key lime pie and strawberry flavors. (The strawberry flavors even used fresh strawberries from Lewis Farms.) A cinnamon flavor will launch this year.
Hooper isn’t shy about the simplicity of ingredients. In fact, she is happy to share the details. But don’t think the process can be replicated by just anyone.
“You boil 3/4 cup of water, 2 cups of sugar and put a stick of butter on top,” Hooper said. “You watch it boil up and then back down while watching for a certain consistency.”
She never uses a candy thermometer, but eyes the perfect time. A matter of seconds make the difference between creating perfect melt-in-your-mouth candies and the entire pot just boiling into a lump of hard sugar.
On a sunny day in March, Hooper had us over to watch the entire process. The power of sugar and butter melted together is something to marvel at. The rich smell, the luxurious and addicting flavor.
In the age of Pinterest recipes and passing crazes over different world cuisines, it is impressive how good an old, simple recipe can be.
I watched as she boiled up the butter and sugar mixture and knew just when to pull it off the stove. As she poured the hot lava onto a cool marble, Hooper explained humidity has a big affect on the final product, and we propped open some porch doors.
Just a few drops of peppermint oils and then the mixture was pulled and pulled until it transformed into candies.
After cutting the candies from the large, pulled string of the butter mixture, Hooper snips it up with kitchen sheers into edible, bite-sized pieces before they are left to cream in a tin can overnight.
This gives the candies a soft, gooey center.
I’ve tried all of her candy flavors — cheesecake, key lime pie, cinnamon and traditional peppermint. I swear I tasted graham cracker in the key lime pie candies, but Hooper told me it was just a figment of my imagination.
“I just love when people try them for the first time and say they bring back all kinds of memories,” Hooper said.
They say smell triggers memories unlike any other sense, but I would like to challenge taste could bring you back into grandmother’s kitchen even faster.
Customers can find the buttermints at the following local retailers: Robert’s Grocery (32 Lumina Ave.); Temptations Gourmet (3501 Oleander Drive); Blue Moon Gifts (203 Racine Drive); The Seasoned Gourmet (5500 Market Street).
Reporter Ashley Morris can be reached at [email protected]