Step Right Up, Candy Conessiours!
Gentle summer breezes, giggles of laughter, and the familiar smell of funnel cakes – there’s a reason that fairgrounds capture our hearts year after year. Amid the kaleidoscope of colors and whirl of rides, plenty of our favorite candies and desserts have their origin as a carnival classic.
Would you believe that this fluffy treat is so popular because of a dentist? While people have been enjoying strands of melted sugar since the Renaissance era in the 1400s, the most recognizable version of this treat came from the dentist Willaim Morrison, who invented the first electric cotton candy machine in 1897! This meant that chefs no longer had to spend hours melting and hand-braiding these strands of sugar in order to prepare a single cone.
The first cotton candy cones were little more than sugar and pink coloring, whereas the flavors of today include Berry Prosecco, Rainbow Sherbert, and Unicorn Sparkle! From cocktail garnishes to s’mores add-ons, cotton candy isn’t just a fairground snack anymore.
Kettle (and Caramel!) Corn
This delicious, crunchy treat has been in America longer than America itself has! Kettle corn was an on-the-go street snack for Dutch immigrants as early as the 1740s, and it’s been a staple at fairgrounds ever since. Its caramel cousin would take a little longer to arrive. Caramel-covered popcorn originated in 1870 with two brothers, a pair of German immigrants named Frederick and Louis Rueckheim. After opening up a popcorn store, they started experimenting with new combinations of flavors and ingredients. One of these experiments was a mixture of peanuts and molasses– an instant hit!
This caramel classic became a carnival superstar overnight! Today, there are more flavors of caramel corn than ever before! Birthday Cake, French Toast, and Maple Bourbon bring exciting new twists to this beloved snack. For the outdoorsy, carnival meets campfire with S’mores Caramel Corn!
Crispy Marshmallow Cakes
Marshmallow meets crispy rice cereal, what’s not to love? The ooey, gooey origins of this treat are unclear compared to some of the other sweets on this list, but they’ve been a beloved part of our fairground memories all the same. By the time the recipe for these crispy cakes was first ‘released’ by the Kellogg Company in 1939, they were already a bakesale classic for years. Early versions of this snack actually used molasses and puffed wheat instead, with marshmallows eventually becoming a more popular (and less messy!) choice.
After capturing everyone’s hearts and tastebuds at bake sales and community events throughout the country, it didn’t take long for Crispy Cakes to become a popular treat for festivals, carnivals, and fairs too! Along the way, they’ve picked up plenty of exciting add-ins beyond their original marshmallows. Flash forward to the present and fillings like Fruity Cereal, Rainbow Sprinkles, and S’mores are all common options!
Rich, Chocolatey Fudge
Whenever you visit a Lolli & Pops location, it’s easy to find yourself staring at all the delicious fudge in our dessert case. This indulgent treat doesn’t have a specific point of origin, but plenty of candy historians believe that it came around in Baltimore towards the end of the 1800s! When it first debuted, fudge was a popular college treat for fundraisers and other events, as it could be made in bulk quickly and easily packaged individually.
One popular story says that on Valentine’s Day in 1886, a chocolatier made several mistakes while preparing a batch of caramels, effectively ‘fudging’ the recipe. If that’s the case, it’s one delicious mistake! Since then, fudge has become a Christmas staple before migrating towards celebrations and events in warmer months too. It’s hard to imagine a holiday party or county fair without it!
Each carnival treat has its own living history, a journey through time of sweetness, cheer, and joy. With each bite, we can enjoy the rich history that connects generations through the universal language of fairground fun and bits of optimism.