Aunt Irene is back

CHARLES TOWN – More than a year after closing her Aunt Irene’s Sweets-n-Treats storefront in downtown Harpers Ferry, Michelle Foust is again indulging locals with her line of one-of-a-kind desserts.

Foust brought her oversized cinnamon rolls, Golden Mile Munch, Poor Man’s Truffles, fudge and other homemade goodies to the Charles Town Farmer’s Market last week – and, like a number of vendors there, she sold out of several of her items. She’ll be back again this week for the market, which is set up along Samuel Street from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Michelle Foust, who for years operated Aunt Irene’s Sweets-n-Treats in Harpers Ferry, is a new vendor at the Charles Town Farmer’s Market. She’ll be back again this Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon with cinnamon rolls, seven-layer cookies, fudge, granola and more.

The Cleveland native and mother of three launched Aunt Irene’s in Frederick, Md., and then relocated to Charles Town in 2003.

She said she was thrilled by her first foray at the farmer’s market – and wished she hadn’t waited so long to try that route of connecting with local customers. “When I moved to Charles Town, my insurance agent Lana Schultz encouraged me to sell my stuff just at the farmer’s market,” Foust said.

Instead, Foust opened a store at 180 N. High St. in Harpers Ferry. She found success – including high-profile mentions in Southern Living magazine and on Rachael Ray’s TV show – but she also found herself working long hours week in and week out and struggling to balance the store with the needs of her family. Eventually, Foust made the difficult decision to close her doors and offer her products solely through mail order.

But her space at the farmer’s market offers the best of both worlds, Foust said. She can meet her local customers regularly without sacrificing long hours to man a permanent shop.

Many of those visiting her booth Saturday took note of the press that’s been accorded her sweets, including when her Golden Mile Munch was highlighted as “Snack of the Day” on the March 18, 2009, episode of TV’s syndicated “Rachael Ray Show.”

Foust’s sister had suggested she put her product in front of Ray. After exchanging several emails with one of the producers, she shipped out a box filled with samples of nine of her products.

It wasn’t a surprise, Foust said, that producers liked Golden Mile Munch the best.

“It’s something unique and it’s so good,” she said.

Foust said she based the recipe on a treat her grandmother would bring when she visited for the holidays.

“She always made this cornflake-Rice Krispies bar with coconut and peanuts,” she said. “She’d bring it wrapped in wax paper, stashed in the cereal box. I remember it smelled so glorious.”

While Golden Mile Munch offers that comfort-food feel she recalls from her grandmother’s baking, Foust said she had to keep in mind modern consumers’ preferences.

“I needed to make it sturdy enough to look good standing up in the bag but still be pliable enough to eat easily,” she said. “I’m no chemist, but you have to play around until you figure it all out.”

She added a finished touch of drizzled chocolate to make the mix look more attractive and she created two variations – toffee and peanut butter – in addition to the original butterscotch confection.

A bag of Golden Mile Munch can be seen setting on the table beside Ray all through the segment,” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Packages of Golden Mile Munch were distributed to the 160 members of the studio audience and the snack is still on the show’s Web site (www.rachaelrayshow.com) under a tab marked, “Saw it? Want it? Get it!”

Now Foust plans to continues to market Aunt Irene’s items through her mail order business and at the market. Gift boxes of her treats are especially popular at Christmas and as corporate thank-you presents, she said.

For more information on Foust’s treats, connect with Aunt Irene’s on Facebook, call 304-582-0890 or shop in person at the Charles Town Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings on the 100 block of South Samuel Street downtown.

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