A Chocolate Find in the Heart of Indiana’s Amish Country
Chocolate has been the “crowning glory” of Plyley’s Candies for 80 years
By Maryellen M. Hays
Travelers who leave Interstates 80 or 69 to explore northeastern Indiana’s Amish country will find themselves in a pastoral landscape of rolling hills and scores of spring-fed lakes, snug white farmhouses and looming barns. As they round a curve or crest a hill, most travelers will have at least one heart-in-mouth encounter with a horse-drawn buggy. And they will be charmed by small towns, commerce centers for the surrounding Amish community, such as Shipshewana and LaGrange, where the stores have hitching posts outside--and the hitching posts are fully occupied.
LaGrange, though, is also known throughout the region as the home of Plyley’s Candies, which has catered to chocolate lovers for 80 years. “Chocolate is the crowning glory of our operation,” says Jack T. Plyley, the fourth generation of his family to run the business.
The company was founded in 1917 when Milo and Rilla Plyley moved from Nappanee to LaGrange to be closer to the hub of business for the area. Then, as now, LaGrange was located deep in the heart of the area’s Amish community. Prior to construction of Indiana Toll Road (I-80) and I-69, the most popular routes through Indiana for travelers heading west to Chicago or south to Indianapolis were U.S. 20 and State Road 9, which intersected in LaGrange. The original Plyley soda fountain and gift shop was located just off the intersection of these two roads.
Soon after the store opened, Rilla put out a plate of fudge“just for fun,” according to the familystory, and Plyley’s Candy Company was born. “We were open till 10 p.m. Wednesday and often till midnight on weekends.” Customers were frequently lined up around the corner waiting to be served with candy, recalls Plyley.
Following the death of his father in 1965, Jack Plyley assumed the leadership role with Plyley’s Candies. He and four of his siblings wanted to keep the family business going, but none of his other siblings were interested, so Jack T. took over. In 1971, Plyley’s Candy Company moved to a new factory only a few blocks from this Milo and Rilla’s small original store.
“I am the chief everything around here. I’m chief candy maker, chief maintenance person, chief taste-tester. I don’t do the marketing, but I do everything else that needs to be done to ensure the success of this venture.”
Over the years, Plyley says, “Candy making has grown from an art to a science.” But even with the advances in the industry, Plyley’s Candies continues to rely on the hands-on approach. He says he controls the cooking process by experience, touch and instinct.
Today Plyley’s makes more than 50 hand-finished chocolate confections, including creamy chocolates, nut clusters, mint melt-aways, caramels, butter creams, maple creams, coconut squares, and cherry cordials. The company also produces 37 flavors of regular hard candies and 17 flavors of sugar-free hard candies. For more information, www.Plyleyscandies.com. Factory tours are available.
Other delicious attractions tucked away in northeastern Indiana:
Rise and Roll is an Amish bakery that offers home made delights, including pies, muffins, cookies, cakes and a wonderful egg sausage roll. But the most delightful experience at Rise and Roll is when the Amish workers (usually four or five young women) sing as they clean the bakery after a heavy day of baking and cooking. Don’t miss this, if you’re in the area.
The Patchwork Country Inn and Bed and Breakfast in an 1875 farmhouse in tiny Middlebury has been awarded five stars by the International Hospitality and Restaurant Rating Bureau. It serves magnificent, family-style German and Amish meals. www.patchworkquiltinn.com
Das Dutchman Essenhaus, another popular restaurant in Middlebury, also features German and Amish cooking. www.essenhaus.com
Mishler Meatpacking in Shipshewana. has unique Amish staples, such as a garden vegetable white cheese and a stunning horseradish cheese as well as regular meat items. If you are in the area during hunting season, Mishler’s will process your deer for you.
Wolcottville Methodist Church is the place for noodles. As an ongoing fund raising project, the members of this congregation get together each Monday to make noodles. Lines of drying noodles are stretched across the fellowship hall.
Maryellen M. Hays is a freelance writer who lives in Wolcottville in northeastern Indiana.
Photos courtesy of Ron Hays and Plyley's Candies.
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