The South’s Most Iconic Candy
In most Southern households there is always room for dessert. If you’re not indulging in a slice of homemade pie or freshly baked cake, you might find yourself hankering for a MoonPie or praline. These Southern treats are just a few of the iconic sweets that can be found in local drugstores and next to cash registers in corner stores. They’re the treats our grandparents gave us after church or dentists gave us before cleaning our teeth. In short, they offer a taste of a Southern childhood. Here are 15 candies that have been satisfying many a Southern sweet tooth for years:
Pecans, sugar, and a whole lot of dairy products are the secret to one of the South’s prides and joys—the humble praline. These treats were brought to the South in the 17th century possibly by nuns with a wicked sweet tooth and have been a staple of the Southern candy kitchen ever since. Swing by Southern Candymakers the next time you’re in New Orleans to try their classic take on the treat.
Goo Goo Clusters
It’s hard to imagine, but before the Goo Goo Cluster was invented in 1912, no one had ever combined caramel, marshmallow, roasted peanuts, and chocolate for a candy bar. Thank goodness for the geniuses at Nashville’s Standard Candy Company who brought those flavors together for a sugar bomb that has become a classic. As for that iconic, yet silly name, the company’s history claims it pays homage to babies who can recognize quality candy when they see it and will ask for it from birth!
Potato candy is one of those things that stumps people who didn’t grow up in the South. Why would you put mashed potatoes in your candy? The answer is that the combination of mashed potatoes, peanut butter, and sugar is completely delicious and the best way to prove is to try some. Potato candy is not to be confused with Irish potato candy popular in Philadelphia, but is a uniquely Southern charmer. Whip up a batch at Christmas and be the star of the neighborhood sweet swap.
We can thank Ruth Booe for blending two vices—candy and liquor—into one delectable, bite-sized treat. The idea came about at Frankfort, Kentucky’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1936 and Mrs. Booe perfected the recipe for two years before unveiling her heady bourbon balls. The liquor-filled treats were an instant hit and been a regular at Kentucky Derby parties and cookie swaps ever since.
This Southern delicacy came about when a Kentucky coal miner asked a traveling candy salesman for a snack “as big as the moon.” The folks at the Chattanooga Bakery took up the challenge and delivered a marshmallow-filled graham cracker sandwich coated in chocolate that was sure to satisfy even the hungriest coal miner (or kindergartner). The treat was a hit and has been a favorite in the South and beyond for over 100 years. And as any Southerner knows, MoonPies are best served with a frosty cold RC Cola.
There are many legends about the origins of peanut brittle but this is our favorite: A Southern housewife was trying to make taffy, but added baking soda instead of cream of tartar. She tasted the error, added some peanuts, and was delighted by it—as have generations of Southerners since. Now, the “mistake’ is celebrated nationwide as January 26 which was declared National Peanut Brittle Day.
Made from sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, and more sugar, divinity is a Southern favorite at Christmas or, really, any time of the year. This candy owes a hat tip to the marketing department at the Karo brand corn syrup company, who pushed divinity as a great way to use their product. Divinity is fun to make, but notoriously finicky too, so no one will think less of you if you opt to pick up this sweet tooth charmer at either Nandy’s Candy in Jackson, MI instead.
A Louisville candy maker created these delights to honor the Polish actress Helen Modjeska who dazzled him with her performance in “A Doll’s House” at a local theater. Her name lives on in the form of these caramel-covered marshmallows that pack a sweet punch. Louisville’s local treat, ideally from Muth’s Candy who make them in small batches in traditional copper pots.
While Turtles are technically a trademark of the DeMet’s candy company, they are a long-time Southern favorite. Mobile’s Three Georges Candy Shop has been churning out their own version of the delectable caramel-pecan-chocolate treat for years, while the so-called Gopher Turtles at the Savannah Candy Kitchen involve made-from-scratch caramel poured over a bed of pecans, and topped off with rich chocolate.
Red Bird Peppermint Puffs
North Carolina’s Piedmont Candy Co. has been churning out treats since 1890, making batches of their now-iconic Red Bird Peppermint Puffs in large copper kettles. The company has modernized since then but their candy stripes are still applied by hand giving each puff a homey touch. Sure, you can buy these tasty treats at Wal-Mart and Staples now, but they are a fully Southern delight.
This Kentucky treat dates back to the 1930s when, as rumor has it, a traveling preacher told candy maker Ruth Tharpe Hunt that he liked to have a little sweet to cure his “blue Mondays.” She turned those words of wisdom into cream-filled chocolate that comes in milk or dark chocolate or paired with mint. The factory where these beauties are made has been designated an official Kentucky landmark and Ruth Hunt Candy is now the official candy maker of the Kentucky Derby.
While Missouri’s membership in the South is a subject of some debate, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, just because the Cherry Mash is so darn good. A thick layer of chocolate and roasted peanuts cover a cherry center made from real maraschinos. They’ve been making the bars for decades in their family operated candy factory in St. Joseph, Missouri and it is the best-selling cherry candy bar in America and can be found all over the South.
It might be easy to brush off coconut patties as a version of a Mounds bar, but that’s a disservice to these traditional Florida delights. The best versions feature shredded, creamy coconut enrobed in dark chocolate, and occasionally mixed with tropical flavors like key lime, rum, or piña colada. Orlando candy company Anastasia’s version is a delicious souvenir of a trip to the Sunshine State, but if you’re eager for a hand-dipped version, you can try to make your own.
Born in Texas in the 1930s this crunchy peanut flavored treat has a national following. The snacks originally earned the name "chicken bones" thanks to their scrawny chicken-leg like shape and the coconut coating adding a fried-chicken look. Eventually renamed Chick-o-Stick the sweet treats are still made by the Atkinson Candy company in Lufkin, who also make classic candies like the Slo-Pokes and Black Cows.
If you’ve spent enough time in New Orleans you’ve undoubtedly seen the horse-drawn wagon selling Roman Candy. This unique treat, whose recipe has been passed down in the Cortese family for generation, is like taffy’s more elegant cousin, sold in carefully wrapped, elongated packages. While you can buy the candy online, it’s not nearly as much fun as waving down the wagon as it rolls through the New Orleans streets.