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Caramel recipe from McCook pulls them in to New Mexico store

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

(Photo)
Sheila (Magrath) and Gerald Bivens have opened up a candy store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with its main focus on caramels made from a recipe handed down to her by her grandmother, Catherine Magrath of McCook, Nebraska.
(Courtesy photo)
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico -- Call it the come-back caramel. A 70-year-old candy recipe used by a McCook, Nebraska, woman during the Depression is now a big hit 500 miles away in New Mexico.

The late Catherine Magrath of McCook helped to support her family during the Depression by making candy and wedding cakes. Through the years, she kept at it and became known in the area for her homemade candies and sweets. Her granddaughter, Sheila (Magrath) Bivens, used to join her in the kitchen and, when she was 13, learned how to make her grandmother's caramel candy.

Both her grandfather and her father, Joe Magrath, were long-time veterinarians in the McCook area.

(Photo)
Courtesy photo
Bivens, a 1977 McCook High School graduate, said that was when she was hooked. "I wasn't interested in the other candy she made, I knew this was a winner," she said. "They're creamy, soft, very unique and they've got a flavor at the end, that when you're done, you want another."

Her passion for the recipe didn't diminish over the years and in 2008, Bivens started to make the caramels at her home in Albuquerque. She carried samples while doing errands around town, dropping them off at the bank or insurance company, along with a price list.

Interest grew, but she still wasn't ready to commit to a store. That changed in July of this year, when Bivens and her husband, Gerald, finally took the leap and opened a candy shop and bistro, Sheila's Sweets.

In addition to offering dozens of types of caramels, there's also caramel sauce, based on her grandmother's recipe, plus food products from other vendors and a bistro, where she serves sandwiches, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros and a customer favorite, bacon drizzled with caramel sauce.

It must be a good recipe, as she goes through 150 pounds of caramels each week. Fans of the caramels have called them addictive. With flavors like Buddha Rider, a caramel with candied ginger with sesame, Macadamia or almonds, or a Margarita-style caramel, with candied lime and sea salt, there's something for everyone. Some have told Bivens that they hide the caramels, so other family members can't get to them. Another swears the red chile caramels are the only thing that helps his wife's migranes and he buys a pound each month.

And she still has a few customers in McCook, who remember her grandmother's caramels. Individual orders are available online, along with gift baskets and bulk orders for parties and events, at her website, sheilascaramel.com.

Despite the myriad kinds of caramels she offers, Bivens' favorite is still the plain caramel she first tasted when she was 13.

"You just can't make it any better than it already is," she said.


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