N.J. bill would make salt water taffy the state candy

Before an Assembly panel, students from Samsel Upper Elementary in Sayreville and Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) make the case for a state candy. RITA GIORDANO / Staff
Before an Assembly panel, students from Samsel Upper Elementary in Sayreville and Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) make the case for a state candy. RITA GIORDANO / Staff
Posted: June 07, 2014

Make room, violet and honeybee. Share the stage, goldfinch. New Jersey may soon have a new state symbol, and how sweet it is.

The Assembly's Tourism, Gaming, and the Arts Committee released a bill Thursday that would make salt water taffy the official state candy.

Making a persuasive case for honoring the Shore staple were fifth graders from Samsel Upper Elementary School in Sayreville, a community greatly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, who made the trip Thursday to Trenton.

They proposed the state sweet to Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) after a presentation he had given at their school on how bills become law. He became one of the bill's sponsors. It has not been considered in the Senate.

According to the children's research, salt water taffy, like the Shore it sprang from, was also stronger than the storm.

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a storm damaged the taffy supply of David Bradley, an Atlantic City candy maker. When a little girl asked to buy some taffy, Bradley allegedly quipped that he now had salt water taffy. The name stuck.

Stephen Farley, one of the children who addressed the legislators, said that hundreds of families in Sayreville were hurt by Sandy, including some students present who had lost their homes.

Tyler Graham asked the legislators to get behind their chosen sweet.

"The state is in the process of rebuilding our Jersey Shore and boardwalk," he said. "Wouldn't it be nice to give the citizens of the state a reason to come to the Shore and purchase the official state candy?"

While most states have state birds and trees, the same cannot be said for candies.

Ohio has a peanut-and-chocolate confection called a buckeye as its state candy. Maine's state treat is said to be the whoopee pie, according to the website State Symbols USA. The Massachusetts state dessert is Boston cream pie, while South Dakota went for kuchen. Nebraska's state soft drink is Kool-Aid.

Pennsylvania almost had a state cookie, but legislators couldn't decide among chocolate chip (championed at one point by Coatesville schoolchildren), oatmeal raisin, or sugar cookies.

However, the Keystone State soon may have a state gun.

On Wednesday, the state House took up a bill that calls for the single-engine Piper J-3 Cub (built in Lock Haven) to become the official state aircraft. The bill probably would have sailed through except for an amendment to name the long gun as the state firearm.

About two dozen House Democrats, many from high-gun-violence Philadelphia, did not agree that a state firearm was a good idea. The bill passed anyway and heads to the Senate.

Back in the Garden State, the possibility of a state candy seemed to be welcome news, especially in the salt water taffy sector.

"It's great. It's cute," said Jeanie Wilson, manager of the Fralinger's taffy and sweets shop in Cape May. "When you think of the seashore, you think of salt water taffy."

Visitors from as far as California and Florida will come in for a box to take home from vacation, Wilson said.

"When people come in, they say they can't go home without bringing some," she said.

The tale of candy maker Bradley and the little girl notwithstanding, Joseph Fralinger, Enoch James, and William Shriver are largely regarded as the early Shore taffy titans, and their brands are still sold.

James Candy Co., based in Atlantic City, now also owns the Fralinger brand, according to Lisa Glaser Whitley, a company executive.

Fralinger and James, she said, were "true entrepreneurs," fiercely competitive with one another, each claiming to be the first on the salt water taffy scene.

Fancier sweets have joined the fray, but the cylindrical sweets seem to be holding their own.

Whitley, whose family bought the James company in the 1940s, said sales had grown too close to 700,000 pounds a year, with a healthy mail-order business, especially in the last eight weeks of each year.

The company has a changing online demographic, she said. Could hipsters be chomping those chewy molasses, teaberry, and chocolate morsels?

Ten years ago, "older people" were the main customers, but in more recent years, Whitley said, the ages have trended toward the late 20's through the 40s.

"We see a younger response online," she said.

If salt water taffy becomes the state candy, it could elevate the humble treat even further.

"We were so excited to hear this," Whitley said.

She learned of the state candy nomination Thursday from a colleague.

Whitley quickly posted "a bunch" of taffy to the students' school as a treat, she said.

How big of a bunch?

"A little under 100 pounds," she said.

There was a pause on the line.

"The parents," said Whitley, a mother herself, "are going to hate me."




Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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