In 1960, schools start selling Affy Tapples to raise funds for programs. "Affy Tapple Day" quickly becomes one of the most popular days of the school year. Many fundraising events in the 1960s and early 70s bought broken stick Affy Tapples and chocolate-covered frozen bananas for 5¢ each, giving the group a little more profit.
Affy Tapple moved from its original location on Clark Street in Chicago in 2000 to a new state-of-the-art facility in Niles, Illinois.
The company bought Mrs. Prindables in 2001, a gourmet apple and confectionery company, which sells a premium brand of handmade confections and it makes gourmet caramel apples and candies for upscale mail-order catalogs like Harry and David.
Affy Tapple operates year-round but its busiest season is mid-August through the end of November. It uses approximately 45,000 bushels of apples each year.
Jonathan, Macintosh, and Granny Smith apples are used for Affy Tapples, said company general manager Leo Grigerio. The larger Golden and Red Delicious are at the heart of the gourmet brands. Other apples can be used for special orders.
In the fall, apples arrive in Niles from Washington state. Earlier in the year, they come from Michigan. The fruit is used within 24 hours of delivery but "you don't want the apples too cold or too hot," said Grigerio. Caramel won't stick to an apple that's wet or cold.
Affy Tapple makes each apple by hand. "Although we're in the 21st century it doesn't mean everything has evolved to the 21st-century automation," said Grigerio.
"Individuals contribute to the success of this place."
From large bins that hold up to 14 bushels, apples are poured into the 'sticking section.' Fruits that are too small or too large are eliminated.
A team of women, sitting around a carousel, grab individual apples and, using a press-like device, insert the wooden stick. Each worker impales 23 to 25 apples a minute.
The apples then travel up a conveyor belt where they are dipped in caramel. The same recipe has been used since the company's creation. The caramel is made in small batches, from scratch, every day. There should be at least an eighth of an inch of caramel on each Affy Tapple, said Grigerio.
The recipe's exact proportions are a secret but Grigerio said the basic ingredients are condensed milk, corn syrup, and sugar. A different, richer caramel is used in the company's gourmet products. Knowing when the caramel is done depends as much upon sight as it does upon the recipe. "It's 50 percent visual; knowing the right consistency and shine," said Grigerio.
Affy Tapples come plain and with peanuts, the latter being the overwhelming favorite. After the dipping, apples are rolled in chopped nuts. The plain variety is made on a separate production line. For those with nut allergies, there's no concern about cross-contamination.
The chilly chocolate room is where the gourmet apples are made. After apples have been dipped in caramel, they come here to be drizzled in dark chocolate, white chocolate and sometimes both. They can also be rolled in any number of "add ons" like cashews, raisins, toffee or whatever the customer may want.
"One of our most important philosophies is we can supply anyone with anything," Grigerio said.
Affy Tapple is ready to try anything, said Sorkin, although the results can be questionable. Harry and David asked the company for a caramel pear. It was a flop, however, because the fruit doesn't hold the coating as well as apple. Then there was the idea of combining apples with jelly beans. "Apples are great and jelly beans are great but together ... too sweet," Sorkin said.
"We have our purists and the purists are religious to Affy Tapples. We don't want to forget our roots and our roots are here in the Midwest where we have loyal, loyal customers."
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.