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The Sugar Trail

This tower of chocolate in Germany is my kind of art.

Some people like to visit historical markers in the towns they pass through, others like to hit the local breweries, and others – yours truly included – seek out the sweet stuff. Recently I spent some time in the Deep South, and I found a trail of sugary confections to guide my way.

Back in 1912, an inspired candy maker in Nashville thought that a candy bar made of only one ingredient was too boring, so he concocted a treat made of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and milk chocolate. The resulting “Goo Goo Cluster” was the world’s first candy bar to combine these ingredients. Since then, the Goo Goo Cluster has been eclipsed by a certain better-known nougat-caramel-peanuts-and-chocolate candy bar, but you can still find the Clusters in abundance in Nashville.

Just five years after the Goo Goo Cluster was born, and less than 200 miles away, another sugar bomb was created. A Kentucky coal miner asked a traveling salesman for a snack “as big as the moon.” The salesman relayed the request back to his boss at a bakery in Chattanooga. The baker sandwiched marshmallow between two soft graham cookies and dunked the whole thing in chocolate. The resulting (and appropriately named) “Moon Pie” sold for 5 cents and was an instant hit. Moon Pies are still made in Chattanooga; in the surrounding mountain areas, a Moon Pie and an RC Cola remain a beloved snacking tradition.

In the bayous of Louisiana, you can find another way to satisfy your sweet tooth: beignets. These small fried doughnuts were reputedly brought to Louisiana by the Acadians (aka the Creoles), French colonists who were kicked out of Canada for being too…let’s say “uppity”. Originally the fried treats were probably filled with fruit. These days, they’re served absolutely buried in powdered sugar. If you visit New Orleans, an order of hot beignets with a chicory café au lait at Café du Monde is a must. You may want to wear white.

So many candies have been invented in the United States in the last century or so (we do love our sweets) that you can probably find a beloved candy tradition wherever you live – and you even may learn a bit of history while you’re at it.

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