This July, Tasting Table celebrates the great state of American food.
America's candy scene is mostly wrapped up by the Big Three: Mars, Nestlé and Hershey's. But some of our country's most interesting candy bars come from smaller, local companies, where slighter scale often means fresher production and, in some cases, tempering each batch of chocolate by hand. Some that were once popular failed to withstand the test of time, such as the Chicken Dinner bar (which was neither poultry based nor a balanced meal) and the Denver Sandwich (again: not from Denver, not a sandwich).
Here are some of America's coolest regional confections, and where to find them.
We'll give you one guess as to where the Idaho Spud is made. The Idaho Candy Company's best seller has been around for almost 100 years, and instead of gelatin (which is derived from animals), the cocoa marshmallow filling contains agar-agar, making it as vegetarian friendly as an actual potato. Though the inside springs like a damp memory foam mattress, the tuber-shaped bar is surprisingly light, especially with the flakes of coconut dusted on top of the chocolate casing.
Head east and you'll find Minnesota's century-old Nut Goodie, a hearty chocolate-covered peanut conglomerate. Pearson's Candy introduced a sea salt-caramel version to keep up with 21st-century trends, but we suggest the original for its chewy nougat with a heavy dose of maple. This is candy with a sense of humor—the nutritional data lists amount of "Gusto" and "Pizzazz" (one serving contains 94 percent and 96 percent of your daily recommended value, respectively) and warns that its top-notch peanuts will earn you the envy of every squirrel on the block.
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Contrary to its name (and namesake appearance), sponge candy doesn't have a damp, squishy interior. Rather, it has a crisp honeycomb-esque texture, the result of baking soda stirred into a hot sugar mixture, forming thousands of tiny air pockets. Though indigenous to Buffalo, West Coasters might recognize a similar confection by the name Sea Foam. It's worth a journey from anywhere to try the sponge candy at Sweet Jenny's, where owners Tara and Howard Cadmus carefully craft small batches of Buffalo's traditional treat, first introduced by family recipes of European immigrants. Besides just being delicious, the candy's chocolate coating protects it from humidity that would otherwise alter the center's texture, which bubbles up and dissolves like cotton candy when you mull it around in your mouth.
Americans seem to have an affection for confections that require a stack of napkins. Exhibit A: Kansas City's Valomilk, a marshmallow treat in a hand-tempered chocolate shell, labeled by self-proclaimed "Candy Freak" Steve Almond as "the single most difficult-to-eat-candy bar" he has ever consumed. If one bite doesn't result in a face covered in marshmallow liquid, you're doing it wrong. The West Coast has a similar thing going with Los Angeles-based Cup-o-Gold, which features a liberal addition of crunchy toasted almonds and coconut embedded in the chocolate cup. And Pennsylvania has Mallo Cups, started by two entrepreneurial brothers in their mother's kitchen as a way to help their family through the Depression.
Though the Midwest is a trove of small candy companies, the South is home to the Goo Goo Cluster, which, as the name suggests, contains ample "goo." Almond calls this Tennessee treat "a delightful mess." It's similar to a Nut Goodie, but the iconic ooze (from a caramel filling that stretches for miles) makes it distinct. If you must choose from the three varieties—original, Supreme (peanuts swapped out for "fancy pecans") and peanut butter—go with the classic, which was advertised as "a nourishing lunch for a nickel" during the 1920s. Your physician may not support that habit, but we could be pretty sweet on it.
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