Ka Small grew up on pecan pie, spiced nuts, and pecan clusters.
Her grandmother Lessie Mae had pecan trees growing in her backyard, and it wasn’t until those nuts were harvested that the day's baking could begin.
Lessie Mae also had a beauty salon in the house, where all the local ladies would come by to get their beehives done. “It was Steel Magnolias all the way,” Ka recalls in a honeyed Southern drawl. And that’s where Ka got not just her recipes, but her stories.
With Ka's background in the banking industry, her spouse's experience in media (his job brought them north), and a daughter (Rachel Small is one of Ka’s partners) in industrial engineering, the last place you’d expect to find them is in a candy kitchen. But family roots run deep, and Southern pecans are powerful.
Ka and Rachel couldn’t stay out of the kitchen, and they tinkered with every permutation of pecan confection you can think of: coated, clustered, chewy, crumbly. Finally, they landed on a toffee that they couldn’t make fast enough to keep up with the demand from family and friends. They knew they had something special on their hands.
But they had no idea how to bring the product to a pro market stage. They found Le Cordon Bleu and instructor Stacy Stapleton and hired her as a consultant. The consultation worked out so well, she’s now a partner in the business. This particular taste of Macon, Georgia is now being churned out to the tune of 14,000 pieces a month, in an unassuming industrial space in South St. Paul.
The candy is marked by a profound chew and distinctive nuttiness that’s not the same as the flat, wide, typical pecan of your Minnesota grandmother’s pecan pie. The pecans in a Sassy toffee are Elliot Pecans, a squat, smooth, teardrop shape. Pearson Farm, the 150-year-old plantation that grows the nuts for Sassy, grows the trees in between peach trees. The resulting nut is at once fruity, buttery, even a little smoky.
“You gotta know your pecans,” says Ka.
Ka does, and she also knows her peanuts, which will come from Bell Plantation, also out of Georgia, and will provide the peanut butter for their upcoming peanut butter and jelly toffee flavor.
The flavors are where Ka likes to interpret those Steel Magnolia stories. The Red Velvet is an homage to her “mawmaw” who took to her bed for the rest of her life at age 63 -- for no other reason than that she felt like it. But she saw fit to ring a bell when it was “cake hour” demanding “just a sliver” of Red Velvet Cake. She got out of bed only to retrieve more.
The company is still growing, and I personally recommend springing for the toffee. They’re rich and special, and whether or not you like toffee, or nuts, it’s difficult not to like these, especially the Southern French Toast flavor, dusted with powdered sugar.
They’re currently shipping to six states, and have some large local accounts on the line. Want some? Order online, or check them out at the upcoming U.S. Bank Stadium Holiday Boutique, November 11-13.
They’re enough to make you take to your bed, candy in hand.