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Monday, July 14, 2014

Day Trippin" With Googlemaps and Mapquest

Day Trippin' With Google and Mapquest

Today was the last day of our vacation-staycation.  At the end of the day, everyone had a good time, but I certainly had my doubts this morning.

Connor and Kacie's grandpa dropped them at the house this morning at 8:30am so we could get an early start to our day.  The itinerary was a trip to Lancaster County to visit the Miesse Candy Factory followed by a tour of Herr's Foods (can you say "snack attack"?).  

The candy factory, founded in 1875, is located on Water Street in Lancaster, and if you drive past it not knowing what to look for, you'd never recognize it as a candy factory.  It is a small, family-owned concern where the candy is made year-round using both automated methods and hand-crafting.

Our tour reservation was for 10am, but at 10am we were still somewhere in Shillington along Business Route 222...thanks to Google Map!   The directions given from our house to the factory were ridiculously convoluted, and easily took us miles out of our way.  We followed the directions as given, and what should have been an hour long trip took more like an hour and 45 minutes!  

I wonder just who it is that is providing these directions from my house to my destination.  I have this vision of a really old person, not fully enamored of driving a gasoline-powered vehicle with a love of all back roads and all the time in the world to arrive at a destination.  

Had I followed my instincts, we would have arrived for the 10am tour with 15 minutes to spare.  Fortunately, it's a Monday and we had no problem rescheduling for 11am.  

Although they weren't actually making candy this morning, we had a very thorough tour given by the current owner's son.  He went into great detail for us, explaining each and every piece of machinery, describing the types of candy made and showing us the various stations in the kitchen where the treats are created.  

The distinction between Miesse and other factories, such as the Wilbur Chocolate Factory, is that Miesse makes candy using chocolate purchased from other chocolate makers.  A large company such as Hershey (for example) makes their own chocolate from cacao, sugar, butter, cream and other ingredients because they work on a much larger scale.  The smaller, craft candy makers have their own special blends of chocolate obtained from several chocolate makers.  These chocolates are specially and carefully blended to obtain their "signature" taste.

It was interesting to learn about how easily the perfect balance between heat and texture can be affected by the weather!  In a small candy shop like Miesse, all the thermometers and gauges are monitored by people, not electronics. We saw the chocolate in their copper pots, constantly being stirred and kept at that perfect temperature and texture. We saw all the various molds used for shaping, and learned that some clients have special molds made for Miesse to use when they place special orders.

One of the fun things we saw were the trays of different colored nonpareils they have.  Nonpareils are the little tiny candy balls sprinkled over solid chocolate discs.  At Miesse the melted chocolate is pushed through a funnel, one at a time, onto a tray of nonpareils.  There is, in fact, an art to making those little discs and the whole procedure is dependent upon the amount of pressure used to drop the discs onto the tray.  

All in all, we had a very thorough tour of how the candy is crafted in a small establishment without actually seeing something made!  We did have samples to taste, and that made it easier to grasp the steps involved in the crafting. Then, of course, we had to make a few purchases in the shop.  What's a candy tour without a take-home sample to be eaten later?

We left Lancaster at approximately 11:45.  The day was hot and steamy and it didn't take long for us to decide to forgo the late afternoon Amish Buggy ride.  We did see several buggies during the day and a few pony carts, along with some beautiful horses!  We all decided to take full advantage of our air conditioned vehicle; not as special as a horse and buggy but way more comfortable.  

Next stop Nottingham!

I picked up my binder with the typed directions and we set out for the next tour.  These directions by Google were more direct, and not nearly as confusing to follow.  We arrived for the 1pm tour fully 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  It gave us more than enough time to browse the gift store and pick up a few bags of snacks that I have not seen in our local grocery stores.  

The Herr's Food Inc. factory tour begins with a 10 minute movie about the founders (Jim and Mim Herr), their family and the history of their business. I learned the surprising fact that Americans consume about 2 pounds of pretzels a year...except for the folks in Philly who manage to ingest 20 pounds a year! Following the movie we were led in smaller groups on a tour that took us to 3 separate buildings.  

The first stop was the pretzel "room" where we watched through viewing windows as the dough was mixed, cut and sent to the extruders for shaping and then cooking/baking.  This process, like almost all of them, is all done by machines and/or drones.  Even with all the automatic processing in place, the company still employs over 1400 people at the Nottingham facility. They also have over 500 product routes! There are employees in quality control, packing and other phases, including the areas we didn't actually get to visit such as the unloading area where the potatoes are delivered in huge truckloads from all over the east coast.  There is another site in Chillicothe, OH that produces nothing but potato chips.

I had purchased a bag of peanut butter stuffed pretzel nuggets and I asked where they added the peanut butter.  Turns out the nuggets for those stuffed pretzels are shipped to another company to receive their peanutty goodness. In that way, Herr's can keep their manufacturing equipment peanut-free!

The next stop was the popcorn "room" where they were currently making their hull-less popcorn.  That was where we learned that all the boxes used by Herr's are recycled, along with the potato peelings (fed to their Black Angus cattle), the reclaimed water from the potato processing room (used to water crops) and the starch water (sent to a fine-paper factory).  This company uses as much of everything as they can!  What a great example of ecology awareness!

The last stop on the tour was the building where they prepare and cook the potato chips.  We watched the chips come down a conveyor belt, all crunchy and delicious and that's when the highlight of the tour occurred:  each visitor gets a hand-full of warm potato chips right off the line!  You can't fully appreciate potato chips until you try one of these 6-second old chips, a product of North Carolina grown potatoes, perfectly cooked, seasoned and warmly crunchy.  I found it quite amazing that they will tell you on the tour where the potatoes for the days' production originate.  We all agreed, they were the best chips any of us had ever eaten.  We also saw a video about the preparation of the corn they use in the tortilla chips.  From delivery of fresh corn, through the corn preparation and massa production, to the rolling, cutting, cooking and seasoning, every step is observed, and the products are all quality controlled.

This company prides itself on the quality used in the production of their products, and in the treatment of it's employees, who all get to participate in profit sharing. Herr's is still family owned and all the Herr children continue to work at the facility.  

No visit to Lancaster County is complete without a visit to a restaurant featuring a Pennsylvania Dutch Smorgasbord.  In my online research I discovered the Lititz Family Cupboard Restaurant.  We decided to try it in lieu of one of the larger, more tourist attraction establishments.  

My best decision of the day was to include a Pennsylvania map with my binder of information, so finding our dining destination was less frustrating than it might have been.  Save for one false directional turn (when we crossed the Mason Dixon Line into Maryland and back out into Pennsylvania in one U-turn; Nottingham is close to the MD border), we found our way without incident. 

We've been to Shady Maple, and Millers, and Yoders.  All delicious and with more selections that you can imagine!  The Lititz Family Cupboard received rave reviews and is one of those restaurants that draw a lot of local business. We always love to try the restaurants the locals patronize and this restaurant is definitely a gem.  You can order from their extensive menu or try one of their buffets.  The food is authentically Pennsylvania Dutch: fresh, affordable, abundant and delicious! There may not have been as many selections on their dinner buffet, but each selection was so tasty!   This may be a little secret I should have kept to myself! 

Next outing...

The next time we decide to visit a new site or take another factory tour, in addition to directions provided online, I'm making sure I have a dashboard compass and a state map at the ready. (Until we get a GPS!)  

And to Google Maps and MapQuest, well, improvement is most definitely called for!