Fans of classic candies all have their favorites. While you may have certain brand names in mind when you think of candy, don’t forget those treats that were once found only in the home kitchen. Hardtack candy were long associated with handmade Christmas and birthday presents, especially in the Mideast and Northeast. Now, you can order these unique candies made with a caring touch rather than having to mess with hot sugar and thermometers at home. Discover the secrets of these beloved hard candies and what sets them apart from other sweet treats.
Hardtack candy is one of the few candies that has a long history of being made at home. While taffy pulls and caramel boils were often community events due to the labor required, hardtack candy is easy enough to do at home with just one or two people. The sugar is melted to a certain stage known as hardball or hard crack, which likely contributed to its name. Others believe that it was named after the hardtack biscuit that once fed sailors and soldiers alike. Since many people are reluctant to make candy at home now, it’s a good thing that hardtack candy is available for sale.
Making candy at home from little more than a few types of sugar, corn syrup, and flavorings was an affordable way to give gifts to family members and friends. It became a tradition in many states, including Pennsylvania, since the materials were widely available even decades ago. Regional variations have cropped up over time to give distinctive flair to certain traditions of hardtack candies.
For a treat that’s reminiscent of the history of the Allegheny area, there are even specialty flavor combinations like Butter Rum and Moonshine-inspired hard candies. Alleghenies Marketplace carries a wide range of interesting hardtack candy options like:
- Pickle-flavored Moonshine
- Crown Royal Apple
- Jack Daniels Rootbeer
- Apple Pie Moonshine
- Cinnamon Fireball.
Of course, classic flavors like raspberry and wintergreen are also available. There’s something for both kids and adults in the selection of candy flavors. The interesting shapes and colors also add to the appeal, especially when you’re planning a special gift.
Each piece of hardtack candy features a light dusting of sugar. While many home cooks relied on powdered sugar for this step, professional hardtack candies usually included a dusting of superfine granulated sugar instead. This allows the flavor to shine through without a powdery taste or texture. No matter the type of sugar, the coating is important to keep these shiny candies from sticking together. Even if you keep them in a dry and sealed container, humid air can quickly melt them into a single lump without the sugar coating. It also keeps the candy from being too sticky to touch when you’re grabbing
Don’t confuse the popular hardtack candy for the far less beloved hardtack. It’s a type of very dry biscuit made of just flour, water, and a little salt. The lack of other ingredients keeps it from spoiling during long periods of storage. Sailors, soldiers, and settlers all relied on it as an emergency food source. Hardtack candies may be hard as well, but they’re far sweeter and won’t stay good for decades like hardtack biscuits.
The gluten-free status of any candy depends on the ingredients used to make it. Hardtack candy is made from relatively few ingredients, but the sugar used to coat the outside may contain gluten, depending on what kind of starch is used in it. Choose a product that’s specifically gluten-free if that’s a concern for you.
Like other types of hard candy, hardtack candies last about 12 months when properly stored. Exposure to light or moisture can shorten the lifespan. Avoid keeping the candies in the freezer or refrigerator unless they’re in the original sealed package since many containers can let in moisture. If you’ve already opened a package, use up the candies within a month for the best flavor and texture. You can also transfer them to a long-term storage container as soon as you open the package so you can enjoy them over a longer period of time.
Look for an air-tight candy dish or food storage system for your favorite candies. If you buy a lot at once and need to store it for its maximum lifespan, try vacuum sealing the candies and keeping them in a dark and cool place.
Tossing in some food-grade silica oxygen absorbers helps manage moisture so it doesn’t cause the candy to stick together. For easy access, look for a tightly sealed bag and make sure to enjoy the candies within a few months.
Consider the favorite flavors of your family and friends when choosing candy as a gift. Rounded or square shapes are a better choice than the shards sometimes used for homemade candy, especially for children.
Pick a themed or fun candy jar to go with the hardtack candies to complete the gift. Try a mix of different flavors to ensure everyone can find something new that they love. Clear glass best showcases the jewel-like colors of the candy.
Flavor purists who only love grape or mint flavor will want to order bulk bags of their favorite options. However, most candy lovers look forward to experimenting with new and unusual tastes. Mixes give you a chance to sample three or more types of hardtack candy all at once.
They’re also great for sharing with people who have different palates or for gifting when you don’t know the preferences of the recipient. Seasonal flavor mixes make it easier than ever to celebrate. Of course, you may decide that one particular flavor is your favorite and only want that type of hardtack from that point on.
Hardtack candy is one of those vintage treats with a lot of sweet memories attached to it. Instead of spending a steamy day risking splatters from hot sugar trying to mix up this recipe yourself, consider ordering a few bags of Sweet Tooth Memories products from Alleghenies Marketplace.
Each package seals tightly to keep your candy fresh, and there are over 20 flavors to choose from that showcase the best of the area. Indulge in some classic candy that everyone from 9 to 99 can enjoy. Click here to explore other great products from the Allegheny area.