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Saturday, February 4, 2012


So here we are.
Yesterday began with four words. Four words in the subject line of an email from my sister, four small, horrible words:
Sarris is on fire.

Sarris Candies is a small, family-run institution in Canonsburg, PA (a suburb of Pittsburgh), that has been churning out the greatest -- and I truly mean greatest -- milk chocolate on the planet since 1960. (They also make fabulous dark chocolate, but oh, the milk.) Anything that is dipped in this milk chocolate, be it caramel, nuts, peanut butter, and especially pretzels, is elevated to an entirely new stratosphere of awesome deliciousness.
There is only one location, one site that houses the entire factory, shop, and adjacent ice cream parlor. 
And it was on fire. 
Sarris has been in existence my entire life, but thanks to a mother who was always on a diet, always lacking in disposable income, and who was also very much familiar with the concept of Pandora’s Box, I was totally unaware of it for most of my childhood. Even when we were driven to all the various parties and functions of the late 70s and early 80s at the Roll-R-Skate, less than a half-mile away from Sarris, Mom never made the detour. Somehow she was able to keep this place entirely removed from our sugar-addicted psyches.  
That changed when I hit high school and my extra-curricular life became based solely on how many Sarris candy bars I could sell. If I wanted to be in my school’s Thespian troupe, membership came at an annual price: selling five cases of 24 bars at a dollar per bar. I was rarely seen without one of those cardboard boxes with the built-in handles for easy transport and handy sales on the go. However, a side effect of this was that, as a result of their constant availability, many long bus rides to and from Saturday speech tournaments saw several of these luscious slabs of chocolate -- generously dotted with huge, whole almonds -- crammed into my restless maw. Hours and hours of babysitting income would ultimately be injected directly into my hips. 
My non-actor-wannabe friends were not excluded from chocolate sales, either. Some of them sold the entire Sarris product line from fundraising catalogues once or twice a year, which is where I learned about the incredible one-pound filled chocolate Easter eggs... and the pretzels. Oh, the pretzels. Some say that the meeting of chocolate and peanut butter changed the world. I contend that the dipping of pretzel into molten chocolate was a revolution. 
And when I finally learned to drive... well, I finally saw the humble emporium for myself, with its giant chocolate castle, its endless case of confections, and treats packed wall-to-wall and up to the rafters, and I was never the same again. 
For four years of high school, my life revolved around this chocolate, and then I went away... to college, to life, to places where no one had ever heard of Sarris. And I would dream about it... how it smelled, how it melted against the warmth of a single touch, how it gave so easily against a bite, how you could actually see the creaminess by its perfect milky shade of cocoa. 
On the rare occasions of my going home to Pittsburgh, even if I couldn’t get to the Sarris shop, I could still get a fix... by stopping at the Rite Aid in the Pittsburgh Airport. No, it wasn’t fancy enough to be sold at a separate kiosk or at the souvenir stands. But fancy is overrated. Eventually, you could even get Sarris at the Giant Eagle supermarket. 
And when I found out they did mail-order, life changed again. Even while surrounded by all the posh New York City chocolatiers, I pored over every humble Sarris catalogue that arrived, salivating at the choco-porn. Every Christmas became a very expensive opportunity to stock up. We had to. Not only had we turned on countless friends to chocolate-covered pretzels, popcorn, and Oreos (oh sweet mercy, the popcorn and Oreos), but we also had to order when the weather was cold, because Sarris couldn’t ship chocolates when it was above 70 degrees. 
One of my favorite long-ago Broadway memories is on one summer’s day, when a family of total strangers, visiting New York City from Pittsburgh, met me at the stage door with a bag of Sarris pretzels. They’d heard where I was from and wanted to give me the taste of home that I couldn’t get shipped to me in hot weather, so they imported it themselves on the plane. Pittsburgh is special that way.
I guess that’s part of what makes Sarris so special. Yes, it is delicious candy, but it’s also so much a part of Pittsburgh life. So many kids have raised money selling that candy. So many families have taken trips to the ice cream parlor. (Not mine, but so many.) Not to mention the fact that this family-owned company, in the minds of many Pittsburghers, perfected, if not created, the chocolate-covered pretzel. Never underestimate a Pittsburgher’s loyalty and pride. 
Sarris is on fire.
We’d ordered far less chocolate this Christmas, in the name of financial and caloric austerity. Just a few pails of pretzels. No caramels, no drizzled popcorn, no Oreos, no meltaways, no malted milk balls, no pecanettes, no bars... it took a great deal of restraint. But hey, we figured. Sarris isn’t going anywhere. There’s always next year.
Sarris is on fire.
I’d spent the last week pondering making a Valentine’s order for my husband as a surprise. I procrastinated, waffled, procrastinated some more. There were daily emails from Sarris, as there always are around the chocolate-based holidays. I had to ignore them, for the sake of my pants.
Sarris is on fire.
It was like hearing news about a dear old faraway friend that you’ve owed a letter to for too long: that the dear old faraway friend has been hit by a car. You can’t rush over, you have no right to inquire. All you can do is hope and pray and wait.
I spent the morning thinking about candy and my youth, home and the years that have passed, and how my obsessing about this event was all at once incredibly silly and not silly at all. 
And then the good news trickled in: the fire was under control, no one was hurt, there was no major structural damage, the factory was fine, the ice cream parlor suffered the most damage and won’t reopen for a few weeks, the HAZMAT team washed the copious amounts of melted chocolate off of the firefighters... and then, finally, the reassurance that most of Sarris (sans giant chocolate castle, which no doubt melted to the great beyond) would be up and running again by Monday.
The dear old faraway friend is going to be okay, thankfully.  
If you live in the United States, you should visit them at www.sarriscandies.com. You’re welcome, taste buds and gentle souls... and I’m terribly, terribly sorry, pants.
Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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