If you’re driving along Washington’s Highway 2/97 and find yourself looking for a sweet stop, then perhaps you are heading to Cashmere.
Located along the southeast corner of the Cascade Loop, mountains and hills give way to the hidden valley of Cashmere, its quaint town surrounded by dozens of fruit orchards and the meandering Wenatchee River.
But what is it that makes this place soooooo sweet? A well known candy factory. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: Aplets & Cotlets…
Founded in 1920, these world famous confections have enjoyed success for almost 100 years. And it all began with a friendship.
Meeting in Seattle, Armenian immigrants Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban became friends, eventually purchasing a Cashmere apple farm they renamed Liberty Orchards.
But beginning a fruit business on the heels of WWI meant getting creative with surplus produce. Among their many ideas came one from their childhood: to recreate a favorite candy they called Rahat Locoum—more commonly known as Turkish Delight.
After trying out a few recipes with the locals, they hit upon one that became an instant favorite. Combining apple pectin with walnuts, sugar and other key ingredients, Aplets were born. Cashmere citizens were enjoying this new delicious treat, and began sharing it with friends and family far away.
A few years later, Cotlets—apricot based—joined in on the fun. Adding a mail order business to the mix helped the fans out of town keep their favorite treats in stock. Other family members joined Liberty Orchards, keeping the business humming. And successful trips to two “local” world fairs (Seattle 1962 and Spokane 1974) gave visitors from outside the US a taste of Cashmere goodness.
Inside the gift shop, eye candy is everywhere—in the form of beautifully wrapped boxes of Aplets & Cotlets. And several new flavors like Blueberry & Almond, which I sampled and fell in love with (and later purchased). Peach, assorted berries, pineapple and other tropical fruits also found representation on the many shelves.
Just in case you’re hoping for chocolate, they feature the chocolatey coated variety. And if you’re looking for sugar free, yes, they have that as well. But one thing you won’t find in their candies: preservatives. It’s Liberty Orchards way of keeping it real.
Lots of other souvenirs too, like the pin I purchased for The Ugly Scarf’s growing collection. And I was greeted by friendly employees who gladly offered me a factory tour. After watching the five-minute video in the back of the store, I put on my complimentary hair net and in we went.
Clean. Very-very-very clean! Light and bright from floor to ceiling, the ginormous kitchen features state-of-the-art equipment. The kettles, when containing a candy batch in progress, are paired up with a stirring device that better resembles an outboard motor than a mixer.
Poured into a giant jelly roll-like pan, the yummy contents are smoothed out and covered in plastic wrap and set aside to cool. When ready, the entire sheet of sweet is turned out onto a belt as it’s coated on all sides with powdered sugar. Then, it heads for the cutter! The now bite-sized pieces fall into a tub, eventually making their way—by hand—into the decorative candy boxes.
Oh, but there’s one last stop before hitting the sales floor: a metal detector. Nothing besides the candy and the designated paper items belong inside the box tray, and only plastic wrap is added to the outside. In the unlikely event the detector is triggered, that box is kicked out and the entire production line stops for inspection.
Back inside the gift shop, I couldn’t help but add a few more items to my purchase. Yes, I did realize I could buy Aplets & Cotlets at my own neighborhood store, but I was enjoying cutting out the shipping process myself…
July through September, the factory sees its fair share of double shifts; production is almost a round-the-clock event. After all, the holidays are just around the corner. And I know just what I want in my Christmas stocking.
But until then, I’ll just have to shop for myself: at my corner store, or perhaps I’ll place an order online. Or take another drive to the southeast corner of the Cascade Loop… J 🍎