13 April 2009

Jewish chocolate genealogy: Almond Kisses obit

To my mind, Passover will always be Barton's Bonbonniere Almond Kisses, each wrapped in patterned cellophane in a black metal can. They were in everyone's New York home and the cans were brought as seder gifts and for eating at home in private.

I bought supplies on my visits home from Teheran and had family send more to me there. The crinkly crackling of the cellophane (which often stuck to the candy and had to be peeled off in pieces) as I unwrapped each one and that first taste of delicious soft caramel-y chocolate-y flavor - Wow!

This was not a treat one shared generously - it was kept as a secret stash, doled out one by one only to those who knew what they were and could appreciate the history and who knew what they represented in a place where only a handful of people - a few other Jewish New Yorkers also married to Iranians - had ever heard of this rich treat. As we savored the melting in our mouths of each Kiss, we watched the very Persian world go by outside.

We can add another reason as to "why this night is different from all other nights" as Barton's is no more - the first Passover in 50 years without Almond Kisses - according to the Atlantic Magazine's story about the company.

In typical recession-era corporate fashion, in the late winter of 2009 a Barton's Candy salesman, planning his annual Passover sales, had heard about a round of layoffs at the company. The news was followed by a more jarring discovery: the chocolate company had canceled its production for its most important time of the year, Passover. The salesman called Menachem Lubinsky--kosher industry insider and editor of the Kosher Today newsletter--in tears, lamenting his professional fate as well as that of the iconic chocolate company.

The salesman's fears were well founded. Cherrydale Farms, Barton's parent company, officially ended the beloved chocolate brand's 71-year run on March 31, 2009. No representatives responded to this reporter's inquiries, though a secretary confirmed the date of death. Barton's, or Barton's Bonbonniere as it was known under its original owners, is mostly remembered fondly as that chocolate from Passover. Its chocolate desserts had been seen as a near-addendum to the seder plate along with Manischewitz wine.

"People living in the '40s, '50s, and '60s couldn't think of life without Barton's," Lubinsky told me in what might have been an exaggeration. But Barton's tins of Almond Kisses did tempt seder-goers for years, and generations of Jewish children sold Barton's candies as fundraisers. This night--the first in more than half a century that Barton's will not be present--will be particularly different from all other nights.

Viennese immigrant Stephen Klein arrived in New York in 1938, and started the Barton's chocolate company with his know-how from Europe, where the family had been chocolate wholesalers.

By the 1950s, the company was a major player. It's chocolate was from Switzerland, arrived in New York and was transformed in one of several Brooklyn factories.

Barton's rival was Barricini's - which I don't remember ever buying or eating. At its height, Bartons had more than 70 franchises in the US, most in New York, and it was carried by department stores like Bloomingdales and Filene's.

In the 1960s, the boxed chocolate market fell and shops closed - the company was again a wholesaler and Kisses appeared in drugstores. I didn't care. Wherever it could be found was good enough for me!

The Klein family sold out in 1978, and Barton's was sold twice before it died at Cherrydale.

Barton's had discovered a Jewish gold mine in its heyday, spurred by a common denominator - everything was kosher - even the Easter chocolates were kosher-for-Passover. Major publications saw the company's holiday ads. Its Borough Park (Brooklyn) shop closed early on Friday for Shabbat, no matter whether customers wanted Almond Kisses, Easter bunnies or candy Santas. The Atlantic story mentioned the chocolate shofar made for Rosh Hashanah, and I seem to remember chocolate lollipops that looked like Chanukah candles. There were also chocolate-covered pretzels.

The Barton's site is still online and describes this treat:

Since 1938, savvy New Yorkers have shared a delicious secret. The smoothest, creamiest, chewiest caramel could be found only in New York and only in Bartons Almond Kisses.
The page ends with "BartonsCandy.com is currently not accepting online orders." You can see recipes using Barton's products here. Tip: Look at the cake recipes but not until after Passover!

Hey, does anyone still have a secret stash somewhere? Let me know.

An American success story that kept true to its (delicious) Jewish traditions.


  1. Alyse Elias Matsil3:17 PM

    I just bought a can of Barton's Chocolate Almond kisses from our Hebrew school Passover candy fundraiser. It's all gone now...had I known I would've bought some more! I totally understand the nostalgia that this treat conjures up! Just tasting it brought me back in time to my childhood Passover seders.

  2. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Wegmans sometimes has it. I bought it last year. Don't know if they had it this year.

  3. candyworld brockton ma 02301 508 427 1731 has a great variety of bartons chocolate, including almond kisses..please stop by for all barton products

  4. How long do the almond kisses last? I found a sealed tin in my parents' house.