There's an endearing sweetness in seeing camote and calabaza candies drying on metal racks inside a nondescript warehouse space in East Los Angeles. Maybe it's because with a half-dozen jamoncillo, or milk fudge, perfectionists hard at work for Día de los Muertos, La Zamorana Candy Co. feels more like an oversized family kitchen than a wholesale business.
"We don't really do things like those sugar skulls you see everywhere," said 22-year-old Vicente (Vince) Mendez Jr., a soft-spoken Cal State Long Beach senior, as he pulls out a sheet pan filled with sugar-coated tarugos, tamarind pulp candies rolled into small balls. The Mexican American Mendez family prefers to pay homage to tradition by making candy the old-fashioned way -- by hand, using recipes passed down through generations.
But staying in the jamoncillo game for more than 50 years has required more than just long hours and some great family recipes. Vince's father, 53-year-old Vicente Mendez, installed most of the modern candy-making equipment in the factory, including a clever slicer that he made with guitar strings. Those upgrades have kept up the milk fudge status quo, but it will be up to the youngest confitero to keep the family's candy-making heritage alive in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Photo credit: Jenn Garbee / For The Times