By Crystal Lindell, associate editor
Local candy is hard to do. It’s not as simple as local fruit, or local meat, or local milk. Candy is, at its roots, a global mixture of chocolate from down south, and sugar from the fields, and fruit from out west.
But don’t take my word for it, just ask Flora Lazar, with Chicago-based Flora Confections, who has created about a half dozen local sweets.
“It’s very challenging to do because what’s local to Chicago is not necessarily local to California or New York,” she says. “I can’t use many of the ingredients that are staples to my trade, like almonds and pistachios. I can’t use chocolate,” she says.
Lazar has risen to the challenge though. She sells her creations at Chicago’s Green City Market, which has strict local food rules. The market does allow for sugar and flour, which could never be produced locally, but nearly everything else must be local.
“It’s kind of tricky in a certain sense, but at least I’m not buying industrial fruit purees that are made halfway around the world,” she says. “It’s not a religion for me, but it’s kind of a professional challenge.”
Her first local creation was French fruit jellies - made with local fruits - and it’s somehow perfect that her first local product had a different country in it’s name. It makes you realize that none of us can escape the fact that we all live in the same place - Earth.
Regardless though, it’s also sweet to learn how advantageous it has been for Flora to rely only on those close to her, at least when it comes to distance.
“Knowing your farmer is a huge advantage. Knowing how ingredients are produced is a huge advantage,” Lazar explains. “[And] the travel time to market is so much shorter so the ingredients themselves are so much fresher. You get things that were picked yesterday.”
I asked Lazar the question everyone’s thinking about these days when they hear the term “local food” - will the insane gas prices spur more confectioners to lean on local foods? But she said she didn’t know if that was going to be a factor and then explained that it wasn’t part of her motivation for the practice.
‘“Food builds community and... and if you provide wonderful food that’s flavorful and well prepared and is generated through farmers that you can know, you can create a unique kind of social experience,” she says.
If everyone could adopt such an authentic motivation for their crafts, we’d all be better off.
For more information on Lazar, feel free to visit her website, www.floraconfections.com, which features a wonderful blog full of confectionery insights.