On Halloween night, children’s trick or treat bags are brimming with Snickers, M&M’s and Skittles; unless, that is, they’re at Cheri Romanoski’s home.
Romanoski, a native Tucsonan and owner of Cheri’s Desert Harvest, hands out prickly pear candies to her trick or treaters. The chewy treats are a Southwest twist on Halloween candy.
Twice a week, Romanoski and her team of five go through 375 pounds of sugar to make 650 pounds of candy in a day. The candy making, which spans over two days, takes an average of six to eight hours, followed by four days of drying in a humidified room.
After pouring the juices and letting them set, Romanoski’s team prepares the large slabs of candy to be cut and sugared before drying, all by hand.
Once the wax paper is removed to prevent sticking, the slabs of candy are cut into squares. Then, they are carefully tossed in sugar before being strategically set on trays, leaving enough space between them for the air to pass through and properly dry.
All three flavors—prickly pear, pomegranate, and margarita–of the delightfully chewy square candies are made from organic prickly pear, pomegranate and citrus juices that Romanoski and her team make from their acres of local citrus trees and cactus.
Cheri’s Desert Harvest first began in Romanoski’s home, where she preserved fruits from her own property, then gave the left-over preserves to her neighbors.
“I didn’t like what I saw in the grocery store, so I decided to grow my own fruits, process it and preserve it,” Romanoski said.
Romanoski never intended for her hobby to evolve into a business, but 32 years later, she is still making her preserves, as well as marmalades, candies, honey, syrups, and even prickly pear cactus seed oil, which is used to nourish skin.
While Romanoski no longer personally places labels on jelly jars or hand-seals shrink wrap with a hair dryer, she still makes her products, just as she did years ago.
“We still work with small batches, because that ensures the nutrient value, the color of the fruit, and the flavor,” Romanoski said. “If you cook it in large batches it destroys the wonderful aspects of that fruit.”
Keeping to the days of making preserves in her home, Romanoski still uses organic fruits and doesn’t add preservatives or coloring to her products. She also doesn’t add fillers like water, which dilutes the natural flavors of the fruit.
To preserve her products, Romanoksi uses the natural components of sugar and acidity, which also preserve the fruits’ delicious flavors.
“The base is prickly pear, pomegranate, and citrus,” Romanoski said. “That’s what is unique about our candies and products— you’re getting the full flavor of the fruit along with the nutrient values. It’s not sugar water with coloring.”
Ty Romanoski, Cheri’s daughter-in-law, helps with making the candies, usually by cutting them into squares.
“The work can be tedious but it’s a really great feeling of camaraderie,” Ty said. “But my favorite part is that it’s delicious.”
Trick or Treaters will love the sweetness of the prickly pear and the tart zing of the pomegranate. Their parents, however, will enjoy the citrusy margarita morsels, infused with tequila and triple sec, which will make them feel as if they’re sipping on a margarita while walking up spooky driveways and dodging little witches and vampires.
Visit cherisdesertharvest.com to see where you can find their delicious products.