Right where we left off, but first...
In my early twenties, my friends and I created a yearly tradition of wandering into the woods together the week after Christmas. Each year, temperatures would dip at least into single digits, if not into negatives. We’d sit in a circle around a small fire built from half frozen twigs, bundled and huddled against the cold, then going to bed wondering whether anyone would come looking for us the next morning. No one slept; we’d just lay in collective silence, each trying to shake the fear of never waking up and attempting to curl into such a contortion that would grant ones feet just enough warmth to ease the icy numbness.
Individuals older and wiser than ourselves would either roll their eyes or openly scold us for our foolishness so when I informed my grandfather of my weekend plans during the winter break of 2011, I expected at least an exhalation of breath to mark his amazement at the folly. Instead, he told me of hiking across fields, through forests, and camping in the midst of Canadian winters, with a pan, some bacon, a tent and a blanket...alone.
When I asked if such a trip was enjoyable, he said, “Must have been, cause I went back.”
Thomas Allen (Ado) Burry of Toronto, Ontario was born December 28th, 1931. Growing up, his immediate family consisted of his younger brother, George (known as Budsy), his mother and father, Clarice and Allen Ralph Burry. His early childhood was marked by perfect attendance every school year, a love of math, knowledge of varied card games, strategic skill on the chess board and talking too much, in and out of the classroom. He invested time into his highschool softball team, church youth choir and his burgeoning love of ice hockey. Much to our families eternal pride, he was the yoyo champion of his town.
It must be recalled from part 1 of this series, that Uncle George had moved to New Jersey after his London chocolate shop, Polly Annas, fell through due to sugar shortages. Once there, he founded Burry’s Cookies and acquired the small, bankrupt fudge company, Helen Elliott. Very quickly, both businesses were thriving and George was in need of managerial help he could trust. He looked to the cold, frozen north and, lo, his brother, Allen Ralph, heard the familial call and set forth to the land of promise. Since their father, George Sr., was born in Newark, New Jersey and had the birth certificate to prove it, the brothers were able to convince Major Lemuel Schofield to grant them US citizenship.
So in his late teens, Fudge Shoppe founder, Allen (so we’ll refer to Thomas Allen from now on) moved with his family to Plainfield, NJ, where his father became manager of Helen Elliott.
Not long before he passed away, Allen Ralph reflected on the little shop 60 years in his past. “It was owned by the actress Helen Elliott and her husband. The sugar quota (maybe Jones-Costigan Amendment?) took effect and shorted Hellen Elliott’s for candy production so they went to the bank to sell. Now, George already had loads of sugar so it worked.”
It was here that Allen would learn the art and love of candy making and that Ralph Allen was bring to life such creations as the Patio Thin Mint which would be handed down through four generations. Under Ralph Allen’s management, Helen Elliott bloomed to nine locations. “Some were duds,” he admitted. “They could have been better.” Was this the admission of a disappointed overseer or the humble admission that things can always improve? We will sadly never know.
Allen was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War at 21. He served as a cook while stationed in France where his time was marked by almost being court martialed for giving leftover flapjacks to street urchins and crossing the channel to attend Queen Elizabeth's coronation. It was while he was serving overseas that he was finally granted full U.S. citizenship.
After returning to the U.S., Allen studied business at Lehigh University for two years before dropping out and returning to full time work at Helen Elliott.
“He always said if they had allowed him to major in Pinochle he would have continued but since they were requiring him to learn things like English, he felt it was a waste of his time,” says his daughter Susan.
“He majored in bridge,” says his wife, Anna, with a laugh. “Besides playing cards, he would help his friends with their math but that was about it.”
It was after he had left school and while, unbeknownst to him, the ties between family and business were wearing thin for uncle George, that Allen visited a friend, the neighbor of the Blackford sisters, and caught his first glimpse of Anna Jane Blackford.
Home Sweet Middlesex
Anna Jane Blackford was born in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania on November 12, 1935 to Emery Cleveland and Mary Blackford. Emery was well known and remembered for his public activism and Mary for her families Somerville inn and for having three teeth. Not long after Anna was born, the growing family moved to Middlesex.
The couple had eight children in all; Vicky, Clarkson, Anna, Mary, Joan, Beatrice, Jeanette and Esther. Sadly, Clarkson and Jeanette both tragically did not survive past early childhood.
The sisters spent their childhoods playing baseball on the street with other children from the neighborhood, ice skating, building forts in the fields surrounding their home and all had attended Bound Brook High School. Anna Jane was known to be constantly reading. Her yearbook asserted that she was “never without her nose in a book”.
Anna remembers, “I was always a bank teller growing up. I worked in the Bound Brook Bank while in high school then went to Barrington Bible College. I left after a semester and went to work at Westfield National Bank. I was so home sick.”
Before we move on from this era, I’d like to mention a personal "fun fact". My wife and I had only been dating for a few months when we discovered that our grandmother's sisters had, in childhood, been inseparable best friends. At our wedding, the two saw each other for the first time since their early years together. “What a strange pattern the shuttle of life can weave.”
"Wav, true wav, will fowow you foweva."
“Was it love at first sight?” I ask my grandma.
“No,” she replies with comical swiftness. “Maybe for him,” she follows up laughingly.
It was not serendipity that brought Allen to a meeting of the Miracle Book Club. He had been visiting a friend when he spotted Anna playing badminton with her sister Mary. It was then that he decided to do all he needed to date her. And so, at a book club, in an American Legion, love was kindled.
“In fact, our dates were that we’d go to Middlesex Chapel and then we would run to Front Street, because their meetings were staggered.”
“Wait.” I interrupt a little perplexed. “So you would go...you’d start at one Bible study and then run to another?”
“Yeah. All our other dates were hockey games,” she replies as if their were nothing strange about a running date between churches, “even though I didn’t know the first thing about it. He knew all the players. He’d get free tickets for the Rangers.”
“Oh really?” I responded with some surprise given my grandfathers eternal love of the Devils, regardless of their inability to capture a successful season.
“They were all from his town. Louis Fontinato.” She throws out this name as if (and I’m not sure if she's aware of it) he wasn’t one of the most legendary enforcers of all time. “ We’d sit with the wifes. He went to school with him. And Andy Bathgate.” And again this Top 100 Players list name is dropped without any fan fair.
“I’m not sure that he was buddy-buddy with them but they grew up together. Our first date was to a hockey game. Actually, I only went because I thought it was a prayer meeting.”
Allen and Anna were married 9 months later and moved into an apartment on Front Street. In 9 months time, they welcomed their first child into the world, Allen Thomas. (I’m so sorry that every males name is Allen, Thomas or George. Take a moment to grab a coffee and center yourself if you need to. I’ll wait.)
Around this time, Uncle George decided that the mixing of family into business wasn’t his cup of tea. Allen left working at Helen Elliott and used industry connections to become a candy equipment salesman and consultant. During this time, he met Nick Peterson who invited Allen to become his partner at Peterson’s House of Fudge. Allen, Anna and Allen Jr. packed up their lives, said goodbye to their families and moved into the far south; Delaware.
In a small shop along Route 40, Allen learned the love of making fudge and the couples second child, Leslie, was born. But what started in friendship and a mutual love of confections, ended after two years.
“He fired us because we would go to prayer meeting on Wednesday night and he said we were needed in the store.”
Religious discrimination obviously meant very little to nothing in the late 1950’s and so with their Delaware hopes dashed the four Burry’s, plus one on the way, moved directly to Flemington, New Jersey.
Finding a place to thrive.
I remember very vividly my grandfather telling me about his choice to settle in Flemington. His jovial voice was full of pride as he said, “I knew Flemington could become someplace special. 202 was a one lane road with nothing along it until Somerville,” he said while looking out on four lanes piled with countless commuters. “Everyone said I was crazy to go into Flemington but I knew we’d make it.”
Allen’s intention was start a new enterprise and to incorporate the Burry name into the company, but when uncle George heard, he warned that he would not abide any further diluting of the family name within the confectionery industry, so Allen chose to keep the name simple. The Fudge Shoppe was founded in 1961 but was without a permanent home for the first few years. The first location, in which you could watch Allen handcraft fudge, was actually the building of our current neighbors, Thee Ice Cream Parlor.
“We survived on dented cans. Literally.”
Ralph Allen, who was still managing Helen Elliott, watched his son’s struggling business and his growing family move from their first location, to a second just slightly down 202, and a third just outside Turntable Junction.
“You’re never going to make it. Get out now,” Anna remembers being told by her father-in-law.
Susan was born, the Turntable Junction Store stopped being profitable and Allen began selling at the Trenton Farmers Market to make ends meet.
Suddenly, a new building became available, smack between the first and second locations. It was an old police barracks, and possibly the least compatible building within Hunterdon County but my grandfather told me he had been led to it by providence.
My grandmother recalls with a smirk, “One lawyer told me, ‘you’re never going to get it. This will never be approved!’ Everyone in the town was saying, ‘the candy man’s gone crazy! But we got it and here we are.”
Fifth generation candy maker.
Production and Marketing Manager at The Fudge Shoppe.