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Homemade chocolates a specialty in Western Pa.

| Monday, Oct. 25, 2010

It's a tradition that never goes stale: buying sweets for one's sweetheart.

This is usually a yearly occurrence, the proverbial last-minute foray by the hapless guy who forgets Valentine's Day.

But there's no need to wait for a holiday, and even less need to settle for store-bought candy that may have been sitting on shelves for days. Western Pennsylvania is home to candy makers that specialize in homemade chocolates and other confections. While they don't divulge the secrets of their crafts, they've obviously found good formulas: all of the candy makers listed below have been in the business for at least 40 years, and are tasty destinations for a great date.

Anderson's Candies

The world has changed dramatically in the last 100 years.

Anderson's Candies has not.

The candymaker, located in Baden, Beaver County, is making the same chocolates and confections that founder Harry Anderson created in 1916.

"We've never changed our recipe since we started," says proprietor Goldie Anderson, a descendant of the founder.

The store features what Anderson calls "quality chocolates" from a recipe that is guarded closely. Don't even bother to ask what ingredients go into the caramel nougats and other specialty or seasonal items. There are turtles, truffles, thin and misty mints, chocolate-covered pretzels, and, in a nod to contemporary tastes, chocolate-covered Oreos.

Anderson's Candies, 1010 W. State St., Baden. Hours: 9 a.m to 6:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-869-3018 or online .

Gene & Boots Candies, Perryopolis

There's a reason why the fudge made at Gene & Boots Candies tastes different: dairy cream, not water, is used in the recipe. Small touches like this are part of the reason the Perryopolis candy maker has been in business since 1930, when Gene Madigan and a friend known only as Boots started the business.

Need a specialty item• Gene & Boots makes molded chocolate angels and alligators, trains and turtles. The company prides itself in using only the finest of ingredients, and also serves ice cream and other treats at its flagship store and factory. There are Gene & Boots stores in Charleroi, Greensburg, Latrobe, Uniontown and West Mifflin.

Gene & Boots Candies, 2939 Pittsburgh Road, Perryopolis. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Details: 724-736-8959 or online .

The Milk Shake Factory, South Side

Because of its partnership with Edward Marc Chocolatier, there are numerous candies and confections available at the Milk Shake Factory in the South Side. But as its name implies, milkshakes -- the rich, frothy liquid cousins of candy -- are the specialty here. The classic flavors of vanilla and chocolate are available, as are more exotic creations such as mango, dulce de leche and toasted almond fudge java. There also are floats, spritzers and that classic frothy concoction, the egg cream.

The Milk Shake Factory, 1705 East Carson St., South Side. Hours: 10 a.m to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 412-488-1808 or online .

Sarris Candies, Canonsburg

Frank Sarris started making candy in his basement in the early 1960s, and opened a retail outlet next to his home in 1963. Since then, Sarris Candies has not only become a tourist attraction in Washington County, but a regional distributor of his homemade candy. But the true breadth of Sarris' creations can only be experienced at the Canonsburg store and factory, where the complete line of gift boxes, bars and specialty items are available. For the chocolate connoisseur or for a party, there are pails of bridge mix, malted milk balls, chocolate covered raisins and pretzels.

Sarris Candies, 511 Adams Ave. Canonsburg. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-745-4042 or online .

Sherm Edwards Candies, Trafford

By name alone, the products Sherm Edwards Candies offer are enticing. A Stolen Heaven is fluffy marshmallow on pecans covered in rich or dark chocolate; a creamy peanut butter center sandwiched between Ritz crackers, covered in chocolate, is a Babycake; Chocolate Butter Creams need no further description. Founder Sherm Edwards started as a confectioner in the 1940s, and opened the Trafford store and factory in 1978. His son, Mark Edwards, is the chocolatier on the premises. The store stocks up to 300 different kinds of novelties on site. Sherm Edwards also sells its candies in the Pentagon.

On Nov. 6, Sherm Edwards Candies will hold an open house during regular store hours. For $7 ($4 for children 12 and under) chocolate and candy lovers can sample the store's wares until they burst at the seams. Two sessions, starting at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., are still available. Two afternoon session are sold out. Advance reservations are required.

Sherm Edwards Candies, 509 Cavitt Avenue, Trafford. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Details: 412-373-2981 or online .

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