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The Mint Rock King

1 Dixons

Maxons is a family run sweet factory in Sheffield. Home of the famous Sheffield Mint Rock, & North East Jesmona, it produces boiled sweets, sherbets and sugar crystals in a number of different forms and flavours to both regional and traditional recipes. The factory has been operating on the site since the Victorian era. Its current owners, the Pitchfork family, have been in the sweet business for over eight generations. The basis of all the sweets at Maxon’s is simply boiled sugar. As a relatively small-scale factory, Maxon’s work with a broker to secure a regular supply of sugar. There are two main sugar companies that trade in the UK – British Sugar and Tate & Lyle. The price that a broker can negotiate between the two fluctuates minimally. Once a price is secured and an amount delivered to Maxon’s the crates of brown sugar sacks stacked by the factory entrance are transformed into a jewel like array of hard-boiled shapes and flavours through a series of simple stages.

3 Piled Buckets
4B Sugar Bucket
4 Pan

Making the Sweets

Boiling the sugar
The craft of sugar boiling is hot heavy manual labour. Sugar, glucose and water are added to a copper pan above a furnace. The mixture is heated until boiling and all the water has evaporated. The glucose keeps the sugar pliable but it also holds it together, preventing it from going back into a crystalised form (which is what happens if left in warm weather or in the sun). For hard sweets the boiling temperature is up to 131 degrees. The workers boiling the sugar are experienced enough to intuitively know when the mixture is ready for pouring but regularly measure the temperature to ensure a consistency to the texture and colour of the final sweets.

Pouring the sugar
Once the sugar reaches boiling point the pan of molten sugar solution is tipped onto a stone table top where the sugar is then ‘worked’.  The mixture is repeatedly scooped & folded to aid the cooling process. At this point flavour and food dye are added, turning the boiled sugar any number of colours before it cools enough to be handled with gloves. As the solution cools it spreads with less and less speed across the table surface. If it cools too quickly crystals will form disrupting the smooth texture and transparency. In that case the mixture is simply returned to the boiling pan.

Airing the sugar
Once the boiled sugar solution is cooled it is either aerated further via a machine to change the colour hue and/or worked by hand to add additional ingredients to the sweet. For example, if making a Lemon Sherbet the pliable sugar would be stretched and sherbet added between two layers before being folded up akin to a sausage roll ready for making into individual sweets.

Shaping the sweets
The pliable sugar is stretched into a narrow strand and fed into a machine to cut and form singular sweets. The machines at Maxon’s have been in place since the 1950s and require regular maintainance from the onsite mechanic. His knowledge of the now unique machinery learnt through experience.

Chipping the edges
The cut sweets are put into a standard cement mixer and turned. The spinning chips off any sharp edges and further allows a last coating of fine sugar to be added to the sweet, dusting the surface. Once mixed the sweets are transferred to the packing area to be bagged or boxed ready for transport and sale.

4A Sugar Table
4C Mould2 Copy
4Ce Machine Sweet
4D Machine2
4F Tumbler2
5 Jars
6 Jesmona Tins

All images courtesy of Laure Carnet Studio Dust.

Words by Laura Mansfield.