The keys to my heart

At least one of them is made of pure, dark chocolate

If asked to rattle off a list of my favorite edible things, chocolate would probably fall right under cheese and just above wine. (So if anyone wants to get me something for Valentine’s Day, I just made it easy for ya.)

But chocolate is so cliché, you might say. I would reply: Not if you do it right. The big heart box of chocolates filled with assorted flavors? Cliché. We all know there are always a few really good ones in there right next to a few real stinkers. But if you know your sweetie loves truffles, get her truffles. If you know she has a weakness for dark chocolate and caramel, by golly go get her some. That’s not cliché—that’s love.

In keeping with the theme of Valentine’s Day, I went out in search of some locally made chocolates. There’s the ever-popular Shubert’s, of course. And the delectable Joy Lyn’s Candies up in Paradise. But what about the little guy, I thought. There must be someone doing something with chocolate on a smaller scale. It didn’t take long to find one.

Antony Tickle has been making toffee in Paradise for 13 years. A baker for more than three decades, he took a stab at the café business in the early ’90s, opening up the Broadway Café in downtown Chico. The market was competitive, though, and after a few years he shut the doors.

In 2002, a second burst of entrepreneurial inspiration struck one day while Tickle was reading the classic French cookbook Larousse Gastronomique. He came upon a recipe for brittle, and after completing it, he found it was actually much more like toffee.

“I took it on a camping trip up to Happy Camp,” Tickle told me. “Everyone went hog wild over it—they started stealing it and hiding it. That inspired me—I used that trip to get the name Happy Campers’ Candy.”

Tickle, who works full time as a baker for the Chico Unified School District, now has about 15 varieties of toffee. The one I bought—at S&S Organic Produce and Natural Foods—that prompted me to call Tickle up was the English Toffee. Wow. Sweet, crunchy toffee, covered with dark chocolate (is there any other kind?) and almonds. Simple but perfect. I can see how Happy Campers’ Candy has stuck around as long as it has.

There have been some bumps, however. During the Great Recession, Tickle said he was forced to branch out. Where he used to be able to make $1,000 during a day-long festival, he was earning $250. That’s where his granola line comes in. His most popular variety is the apples and almond butter mixture, but he’s had great success with his pumpkin cranberry granola (using pumpkin puree) and the Autumn Crave, with dried apples, golden raisins and pumpkin seeds.

In the next year or so, Tickle hopes to turn his side business into a full-time venture. In the meantime, find his delicious treats at most local festivals, including the Saturday farmers’ market in downtown Chico, and local stores including S&S, Maisie Jane’s and Made in Chico.