These sweet American icons range from bite-size candies to crumbly cookies to chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, and all come with a side of American history.
The old adage about being happier than a kid in a candy store holds true, both at home and on the road. For Pittsburgh's Jon H. Prince, it's a Goldenberg's Peanut Chew that brings him back to childhood. And he knows candy: He's president of McKeesport Candy Company, where you can find 2,800 different types of confections (including many listed below). "Sweets are a unique window into social history," says Prince.
In the Pacific Northwest, that history comes in a variation on the Turkish Delight made with apples and apricots from the local harvest. In Wisconsin, it's a candy so beloved that protests were staged when the factory closed. And in the South, it's all about the pralines, as it has been for 300 years. As a bonus for travelers, there's no sweeter way to sample local ingredients (macadamia nuts in Hawaii, maple syrup in Vermont, and um, saltwater in New Jersey) than via local sweets. So ready your insulin pump for a tour of 15 treats worth crossing state lines.
Slideshow: See the sweets
Idaho: Idaho spud
Of the 13 billion pounds of Idaho potatoes grown annually, none are as sweet as these spuds: coconut-flecked dark chocolate surrounding a springy cocoa-flavored marshmallow center. No actual potato here! But like the venerable veg, they're nothing if not versatile. Melt 'em down for fondue or ice cream topping, whip them Bavarian style into a pie, or pop 'em in the freezer for a ice-cream-like treat — or, you know, straight out of the package just like folks in the Gem State have been doing since 1918.
Get it: The confection was invented by Boise's Idaho Candy Company, which offers tours of the factory and has a shop onsite. (idahospud.com; $4.99 for a pack of six.)
Hawaii: Chocolate-covered macadamia nuts
Honolulu's Ellen Dye Candies was the first to market the chocolate-dipped nuts back in 1927. The “Godiva of the Pacific” sold the company to Mamoru Takitani 33 years later. Under the new tiki banner Hawaiian Host, Takitani perfected the recipe and created a brand as iconic today as the crunchy milk chocolatey spheres are addictive. Descendents of the Dye family got back in the game in 2010 with varieties that include a touch of chili pepper, ginger and sea salt all hand-dipped in haute chocolate made from locally grown and roasted cacao.
Get it: Order online from Waimea Chocolate Company (waimeachocolatecompany.com; from $8 for a six-piece box). Or find more mass-market brands — Hawaiian Host, Mauna Loa — anywhere and everywhere on the islands (around $6 for 14 pieces).
It's a story too sweet to be true. Legend has it that back in 1932 Los Angeles, See's Candies chef Louis “Gordy” Hooper wooed Bobbi in the packing department with a surprise gift of soft vanilla caramel and chocolate poured over toasted pecans, inspired by her pet turtles. It took off, and so did the lovebirds, forming their own company up in Oakland and delivering orders on a beat-up Harley Davidson (allegedly a gift/blessing from Mary See herself).
Get it: Turtles went mass market and are sold in drugstores nationwide. For a more local version, See's sells the treats under the name pecan buds at the company's numerous old-timey, black-and-white stores on the West Coast. (sees.com; $20.40 for a one-pound box.)
New Mexico: Bizcochito
Biscochitos in the north, biscochos in the south — or simply “that cookie grandma makes” — bizcochitos (with a “z”) were christened as America's first official state cookie in 1989. Anise and cinnamon combine with a touch of wine or brandy in these Latin-inflected shortbread crumblies, first introduced by Spaniards to then-Mexico in the 16th century and now a staple at Christmas celebrations as well as quinceañeras and weddings (the traditional diamond shape represents purity). The secret to the flaky melt-in-your-mouthness? Love. And lard.
Get it: Golden Crown Panaderia sells classic bizcochitos in their Albuquerque shop and online (goldencrown.biz; $4 a dozen in store; $16.95 a pound online) Osito's Biscochitos spices things up with a raspberry/habanero version (biscochitos.net; $39.99 for a 92-count tin).
Wisconsin: Candy Raisins
When Necco closed shop in Milwaukee back in 2008, along with local factory jobs went Candy Raisins. The odd little gumdrops had been a local rite of passage since 1930: Yellow-tan with a wrinkly top, the taste was floral, honey-ginger perhaps, a mystery. Also a mystery: the name (there are no raisins in the mix). But, in a lesson for Occupy Sweet Street, devotees rallied, started a website, and inspired 7,000-plus to sign a petition — and it worked. Sort of. Using what is thought to be the last bags in existence, the people behind Osmanium Candy Company reverse-engineered a new version called Candy Sunshine. The fruits of their labor debut in March 2012.
Get it: Milwaukee's Candyman Snack Shop will carry Candy Sunshine (7259 W. North Avenue; 414/393-7647), as will local shops like Fleet Farm and Beans & Barley. You can also order directly from Osmanium (candysunshine.co; $5 for a pack of three bags).
Florida: Coconut patties
When it comes to chocolate-covered-coconut, sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Down in Florida, the homespun creamy crunchy coconut squares offer bigger flavor decisions: plain, key lime, orange, mango, almond or piña colada. Versions of the candy have been enjoyed for decades, but Orlando's family-owned Anastasia Confections took them from the home kitchen to the masses when it started boxing them up as Sunshine State souvenirs in the early '80s.
Get it: Brands like Anastasia are found in tourist shops and drug stores (anastasiaconfections.com; $5.99 for a nine-piece box). For fancier, hand-dipped version, try Melbourne's Grimaldi Candies, near the beach (grimaldicandies.com; $10.85 for eight pieces).
Virginia: Peanut brittle
Paul Bunyan might have dug the Grand Canyon out west, but down in the South, lumberjack folk hero Tony Beaver made peanut brittle. Legend has it that he stopped a flood by dumping peanuts and molasses into a river, not only averting disaster but also creating a tasty treat. It's one of America's oldest candies, one that soldiers survived on (and popularized) during the Civil War. Jan. 26 was even declared National Peanut Brittle Day. And that's no tall tale.
Get it: Forbes Candies — an 80-year-old institution — sells their classic peanut brittle at five shops in Virginia Beach. (forbescandies.com; $5.99 per pound.)
New Jersey: Saltwater taffy
From America's archetypal seaside resort comes the quintessential beach treat. Although businessmen like Joseph Fralinger and Enoch James built a boardwalk empire out of the pastel-hued chews, legend has it the first pieces were sold in 1883 after a tidal surge swamped David Bradley's Atlantic City candy shop, soaking his stock of taffy in seawater. Later, when a young girl came in and asked for a bag, he sarcastically told here to help her herself to the “saltwater taffy.” You, and your dental fillings, won't be surprised to hear that the name stuck.
Get it: Fralinger's Original Taffy and James Candy carry more than 40 flavors of taffy at shops up and down the Atlantic City boardwalk (jamescandy.com; $5.95 per pound in stores or $8.99 per pound online.)
Vermont: Maple sugar candy
From the Algonquin sinzibukwud (“drawn from wood”) to today's Grade A, maple syrup has been a staple since pre-colonial times. The simplicity is refreshing. One ingredient: sugar maple sap. One process: boiling. Keep the boiling going and you get sugar, which is compressed into leaf shapes and enjoyed in all its tooth-aching glory. Maple sugar is actually twice as sweet as regular sugar, so much so that sour dill pickles make a great accompaniment. Trust us!
Get it: Family-owned since 1782, Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks sells the candies in the shape of leaves, hearts, and even rabbits (morsefarm.com; $8.95 for a 12-piece box). Alas, they don't carry pickles.
Pennsylvania: Peanut Chew
Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews were the original PowerBar, back when candy was considered a low-cost nutritional supplement (anyone remember Sperry’s Chicken Dinner bar?). The chews were formulated in 1917 for ration boxes, and four years later these gobs of rich molasses and peanuts all slathered in dark chocolate were wrapped up for the general public and sold as Chew-ets. They've been a hit ever since.
Get it: The Peanut Chews are easily found at most gas stations and grocers, particularly around Philadelphia, and online. (candyfavorites.com; $24.83 for a 24-count box.)
Maine: Whoopie Pie
Who knew creamy frosting smooshed between two moon-shaped pieces of chocolate cake could engender such controversy. Is it a cookie, a pie or a cake? Did German immigrants in Maine invent it in 1925? Or did the name instead come from Pennsylvania Amish farmers who would find their rival version in their lunch pail and shout “whoopie!”? Well, in 2011 the Maine legislature fired the first shot, naming the whoopie pie the Official State Treat. Your move, Pennsylvania.
Get it: The treats are found at shops all over the state, but Labadie's Bakery claims to have baked the original back in 1925 (whoopiepies.com; $26.95 per dozen). Oprah approves of Wicked Whoopies (wickedwhoopies.com; $26 per dozen).
Tennessee: Goo Goo Cluster
Said to be the first-ever combination candy bar, this choco-covered sugar bomb of caramel, marshmallow and peanuts was once promoted as a “nourishing lunch for a nickel.” That was way back in 1912, and for its centennial Goo Goo Clusters got a makeover. Out with milk chocolate shortcuts (i.e. no more additives and partially hydrogenated oils), in with fluffier nougat, slicker packaging and real pecan chunks in a Supreme version. Many in Nashville think its name is in deference to the Grand Ole Opry (GOO), but company lore nods towards babes: a candy so good they'll “ask for it from birth!”
Get it: The candies are deliciously ubiquitous and can be picked up at Cracker Barrels and Kroger markets throughout Tennessee as well as most tourist shops in Nashville. (googoo.com; $3.95 for a three-pack.)
Pralines (praw-LEENS) are to the South what maple candy is to the North, a sweet to celebrate the local plenty. In this case, sugar cane and pecans (puh-CAHNS). French settlers in the 17th century brought over the treat (named for diplomat Caesar du Plessis-Praslin) and soon swapped out the traditional almonds for the local nut. The secret to the deconstructed candy is to combine the milk, cream, sugar, butter and nuts together in one pot and scoop the mixture onto a marble slab. No secret to sweet-toothed New Orleans locals: Samples are easy to come by.
Get it: Swing by Southern Candymakers when you are in New Orleans for handmade pralines and other chocolate treats (southerncandymakers.com; $21.95 for a one-pound box). And yes, they give out samples.
Thanks to the official state tree, Ohio is known as the Buckeye State, and the famed Ohio State athletics teams battle as the Buckeyes. So it should come as no surprise that the favored regional sweet has the same moniker as the tree's shiny nut. Buckeyes (which, like the nut, are named after their resemblance to the eyes of a white-tailed deer) are a peanut butter mixture dipped into chocolate. Just don't mistake it for the real thing; the latter is toxic (and markedly less delicious).
Get it: Visit Schmidt's Fudge Haus in the German Village outside Columbus to see buckeyes being handmade. (schmidtsfudgehaus.com; $10.99 for a half-pound box.)
Washington: Aplets & Cotlets
An immigrant success story for our taste buds, Aplets & Cotlets were the brainchild of Armenian fruit farmers at Liberty Orchards in Cashmere, Wash. When faced with a surplus in their orchard, they turned to their homeland for inspiration. The result: a new take on Turkish Delight featuring walnuts jellied with apple and apricot (“cot”) juice instead of the traditional rose water. More than 90 years on, the sugar-dusted Confection of the Fairies draws about 80,000 pilgrims a year to the orchard, and once wrangled with the nutty-toffee Almond Roca over official state candy status. The fight ended at an impasse.
Get it: Liberty Orchards is where to go for the original creation, as well as varieties like pineapple, cranberry, guava and rose-pistachio. (libertyorchards.com; $9.50 for 16 pieces.)
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