Nancy Flint is an award-winning caramel candy confectioner. The self-described good cook who loved making deserts, gifted homemade sea salt caramels for years. Encouraged by the “oohing and aahing” of family and friends, Flint entered her treat into the 2012 San Diego County Fair. A first place, blue-ribbon landed her a spot on the local news which posed the question, “Where can we buy these most incredible caramels?” And that she says, “was my lightbulb moment for creating a business.”
Flint applied to San Diego’s Department of Health to certify and permit her home kitchen to cook and sell her caramels, and thus, a small Cottage Food Operation “was born.”
“I jumped through a million hoops, followed protocol and received a permit to cook and sell locally,” she said. “I then applied and received a secondary permit to sell my caramels in hotels and boutique shops throughout San Diego County.”
Flint describes the making of her caramels as a “quite extensive production.”
“I’m a one-woman show,” she said. “Me, myself and I do everything from production and wrapping to packaging, marketing, and billing. I work 10 hours a day, seven days a week. And I love it! People who eat my product swoon!”
Flint attributes the making of her secret recipe to “years” of researching caramel recipes. She explained that when creating a recipe, “nothing comes completely from scratch.”
“Recipes are based on years of experience as a cook researching what others have done. Through trial and error, I experimented on what I liked to make it better.”
During the Sugar Mamma’s busy season – October through December – she estimates the production of 30,000 pieces, by working 12-18 hours a day. Hand-crafted in small batches to ensure “precise” quality in “normal household pots and pans,” Flint attributes her thermometer as her secret tool to the art of making caramels.
“Heating sugar to the point of caramelization is an exact science,” she said. “What begins as a liquid thickens with time and temperature that must be removed from the heat at precisely the correct time or it will burn. Seconds make a difference. My magic number is part of my secret.
“Cooking’s my favorite part of the entire process,” she continued. “Cooking’s a joy and a miracle of science. I never tire of it. My house always smells like heaven.”
In addition to her original sea salt caramels, Flint’s “built a menu” of 17 flavors, “literally making something for everyone.”
“Sugar Mamma Caramels are simple candies,” she said. “There are no additives or preservatives. Nothing inhibits the full flavor of real butter and real cream. I simply added flavors based on what’s trending in San Diego.”
Flint notes her husband as her “best taste-tester ever,” and the accolades of her now adult daughters who are so “proud of me.
“My daughters see how hard I’ve worked to launch Sugar Mamma Caramels,” she said. I’m a great model, selling a product I really believe in. I’m confident approaching people. I know the joy it brings. My daughter’s have enjoyed watching me come out of my Cocoon, going old- school to cold-call my product. I walked endlessly into businesses, ice cream shops, boutiques and hotels with samples. I’ve sold Sugar Mamma Caramels by giving away thousands of pieces to family, friends, retailers and hotels just to see their reaction. Now people come to me.”
The name, Sugar Mamma Caramel embodies the essence of all things Nancy Flint.
“Throughout my years as an Italian mother of two daughters, everyone’s always called me Mamma. When naming a candy business, Sugar Mamma explains it all.”
Flint’s advice to novices playing in the kitchen, “experiment until you’re 100 percent confident.”
The genesis of caramel candy is ambiguous. While some history books record the sweet treat as an Italian invention from the city of Turin, others date its origins to the Arabs circa 1000 AD. “Kurat al milh," translated as a "sweet ball of salt," was a crunchy dab of crystallized sugar boiled in water until hardened. Fast forward to the American settlers who were noted to have cooked the confectionary concoction in cast-iron kettles. During the mid-18th Century, milk and fat were added, resulting in a chew candy. The light-brown, sugar-sweet increased in popularity when Milton S. Hershey spearheaded the Lancaster Caramel Company in 1886. His grand scale introduction opened the door for making caramels into sauces, creams and glazes.
Flint’s year-round favorites include Sea Salt Caramels, her signature award-winning, top-seller; Bourbon Caramels filled with “luscious notes” of Bourbon; a Beer and Pretzel Caramel that dons salty pretzels atop the “mellow” beer flavor; Champagne Caramels featuring sparkling sugar bits that enhance the “bubbly effervescence” of champagne; Margarita Caramels, a flavor replete with “a burst of “zippy lime, tequila and a salty glass rim;” Coffee Caramels, “a cup of Joe on the go;” Chai Caramels, infused with “delicious, aromatic blends of traditional Indian spices;” Chili Pepper Caramels that offer a “kick of heat; and Rum Caramels.
Seasonal flavors include Pecan Caramels; Pumpkin Spice Caramels filled with “warming notes of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves;” Meyer Lemon Caramels made with “real” Meyer Lemon juice grown on Flint’s property; Coconut Caramels and Passion Fruit Caramels.
And the Sugar Mamma hasn’t forgotten anyone. Also included among her variety are Agave-Honey Caramels, a sugar-free alternative filled with locally sourced honey and Vegan Caramels, a dairy-free alternative made with vegan "butter' and vegan "cream."
Specialty Confections also include Vanilla Marshmallows made with “fluffy, light, and melt-in-your-mouth pillows of marshmallows; caramel and homemade marshmallow covered in chocolate, chocolate dipped marshmallows; Caramallows, marshmallows and caramels covered in chocolates; and Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows.
Custom batches are made to order for guaranteed freshness. In addition to holiday orders, client orders serve parties, baby and bridal showers, and corporate events. Clients pick their favorite flavors and stylized packaging. Sugar Mamma Caramels are sold throughout Mission Bay in hotels and local boutique stores, and the Liberty Station Holiday Bazaar.
Flint is both proud of surprised by her success.
“I never imagined that I’d be hustling with young makers,” she concluded. “Even they call me mamma. My caramels are truly made with love and joy.”
Where to find them?
Sugar Mamma Caramels may be purchased locally at Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, and Paradise Point Resort, and ordered from sugarmammacaramels.com.