By Pat McKnight  

Visitors to The Pearl Confectionery wouldn’t be faulted for thinking they had entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The mingled aromas of vanilla, chocolate and other delights wafting from the glass-enclosed display cases combine with the old-time atmosphere to invoke nostalgia of the neighborhood store candy counter.

Adult visitors will find many of the candies of their youth, and the younger generation may be introduced to such treats as candy dots attached to sheets of paper and saltwater taffy.

“It surprises people that candy manufacturers still make those,” said Dani Peterslie, who owns and operates the confectionery with her sisters Azia and Tara. “We try to honor history with a step back in time.”

The shop is the latest addition to a row of stores on the 200 block of Pearl Street in La Crosse owned and operated by the Peterslie family. T.J. and Michelle Peterslie started the enterprises when they opened T.J.’s Cheddarheads in the 1970s. The shop offers gifts, souvenirs and other novelties with a cheesehead theme. 

Over the years, the stores the family members opened on the north side of Pearl Street have included an ice cream parlor, various gift stores and a coffee shop. The new fudge shop and expanded confectionery became possible when the paint-your-own pottery studio, All Glazed Up, vacated the location at 205 Pearl Street, relocating the pottery studio farther up the street. The vacated store provided an opportunity to expand The Pearl’s candy selections and open a fudge kitchen. 

“No one else in La Crosse offered fudge,” said Azia. “It’s like the Dells and Hayward, where customers can come in and watch the fudge being made in our kitchen. It’s one more thing that’s homemade that we can offer. Everything is made fresh daily in the kitchen.”

Among the 14 varieties of fudge are chocolate mint, chocolate raspberry, chocolate walnut, cookies and cream, and coconut.

“We have some secret recipes,” said Azia, “and we are making what we have better too.”

The new shop allows the Peterslies to expand their truffle and taffy offerings, as well as sugar-free selections. The space also provides additional seating for their ice cream and coffee customers. 

Before the confectionery opened in December, candy display cases and shelving shared space with the ice cream parlor. When customers wanted to buy candy, they had to wait in line behind ice cream customers. The Peterslies determined that a special shop for candy and a fudge kitchen would better serve that clientele.

An extensive remodeling followed the acquisition of the shop last summer with the confectionery opening in time for the winter holiday season.

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Pecan Turtles

Roast salted pecans by placing them on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a single layer and baking for 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until lightly browned.

Using a favorite caramel recipe, cook the caramel until it reaches 235 to 240 degrees, then pour the warm caramel into a funnel. Using a wooden or plastic spoon as a stopper, place a dollop of caramel on the pecans, moving the funnel up and down and in a circular motion. Let the caramel and nuts cool.

In the meantime, melt solid chocolate pieces or morsels in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set on a pan containing simmering water. Do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. 

When the chocolate is melted, dip the caramel and nut pieces into the mixture. When completely covered, remove the candy and place on a wax paper- or parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.

When cool, store candies in a sealed container at room temperature.

Variations can be created by using dark chocolate or white almond bark, or by using cashews or other nuts instead of pecans.