LANCASTER — For something that melts rather quickly, Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy has showed remarkable staying power.
"It is really still the best kept secret anywhere," said Pam Williams, who runs the store and the company's day-to-day operations. "It's also one of the most unique candies anywhere."
The secret was out Friday as those responsible for maintaining the legacy of Lancaster's buttery smooth signature confection celebrated the product's 50th birthday with a packed party at the current South Campbell Street store where the candy is now made and sold.
Williams' son Evan Seagraves and his wife Jennifer bought the business in 2008 and moved it from the longtime location next to Lancaster Elementary School on Lexington Street to the old health department building on South Campbell.
The business that began in the restaurant of Maxine "Mom" Blakeman and continued in her home kitchen until she died in the 1970s has remained family owned for the last five decades.
After her death, Blakeman passed on the operation to her neighbor, Alma Brown, who had helped her make the candy. The company was then owned by George Perros of Danville before being purchased by Joe and Betty Montgomery, who ran it until selling to the Seagraveses.
Williams, who was born and raised in Garrard County, has savored her role as resident historian, immersing herself in the stories and artifacts of the woman who had no children but everyone called "Mom."
"She was really a remarkable woman with a wonderful story," Williams said. "My husband knew her, and what you find out by talking to people who knew her is how good she was to others."
Long before she gained fame for her take on creamed pull candy, Blakeman was a locally renowned restauranteur with a popular business on the Lancaster Public Square. In addition to dishing out good food, Blakeman often served soldiers for free during World War II.
Betty Murphy, who was at Friday's celebration with her daughter Donna Murphy and great-granddaughter Casey Powell, recalls the food and the atmosphere that made the business a hub for community gatherings.
"We ate there for years and years and brought the kids there because they all just loved it," said Betty Murphy, a former teacher who just celebrated her own 90th birthday.
"It was always full every time you went. She knew absolutely everyone who came in and would come out to talk to you.”
At some point, Blakeman also became known for making her version of a creamed pull candy, which she sold at the restaurant, but often gave away to children when they came through the door.
After Blakeman's husband, Rufus, who owned part of a local funeral home, died, Williams said she sold their Lexington Street house to the owners of Ramsey Funeral Home on the condition she could live in and make her candy in the two-story garage on the property.
How Mom Blakeman's creamed pull candy became "Mom Blakeman's Creamed Pull Candy” apparently involved some advice from the man who is synonymous with one of the state's other iconic brands.
While it is not clear exactly how their friendship began, Col. Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame is credited with encouraging Blakeman to market her candy and sell it on a wider scale.
Powell was a teacher in Garrard County for years and now serves as a special assistant to Garrard Judge-Executive John Wilson. She is among those who remember catching glimpses of Sanders' iconic face and wardrobe when he would come to visit Blakeman.
"It impressed us as kids when Col. Sanders would come to visit," Powell said. "It was a big deal. We would all kind of try to get a look at him. There was one time when I think he came to see Mom Blakeman in the hospital. I was there in the lobby for some reason, and we spoke."
While it is far from becoming an international megabrand like Sanders' chicken, Lancaster's "best kept secret" has actually been more than a whisper for quite some time.
It is sold in all of the state parks and many local and regional gift shops, as well as national chains like CVS and Walgreens. Williams said the candy has been sent to all 50 states, and orders have been shipped to countries in Europe, Asia and troops stationed in Iraq.