There’s a vast amount of history in the south and this guide to traditional southern candies shows that this sweet history extends to all parts of the southern culture, including it’s sweets!
Ever visit the south and been solicited on the street to buy candy? It happens in Louisiana for sure. Living in a southern state provides every flock of snowbirds with bountiful lagniappe and with reasons to eat sweets.
For example, traditional candy is typically seen in more than just a candy shop. It’s found on drugstore counter tops, clothing store checkouts and everywhere in stores all along the southern coastline, as a convenience and just a part of daily life.
Homemakers, single mothers or the retired may drop in at your workplace, anytime during the year, with a box of fresh-made candy, and not just a plain ‘ole candy bar from the candy store, we’re talking real small batch roman candy or peanut butter brickle they’ve been making for 100 years in their family.
It truly sugar-coats living in the south with it’s long hot summers, humid cooking environments and hardly a winter.
Candy will sure let you forget how hot it really is.
Guide to Traditional Southern Candies
Besides the warm weather influencing other candy makers to visit the southern states, there are two more honeyed realities that exist, pertaining to living in the south and candy.
1) The American Sugar League (est. 1922) resides in the south,’Making Life Sweeter, Naturally’ and
2) Owing to Louisiana being named, in honor of Louis the XIV- King of France; these luscious attributes of Louisiana, or the south, will make any candy connoisseur the promise that traditional southern candies are fit-for-a-king.
What’s the History of Traditional Southern Candy?
The history of sweet diversity in the south began with a range of settlers from Europe, Germany, Spain, France, and West Africa and Native Americans before that.
Christopher Columbus even brought sugar cane seedlings over to trade with the natives. So, sugar has been in the New World since the time of initial colonization.
With the Louisiana purchase in 1803, planation owners began growing sugar cane commercially in the south and the industry has grown ever since.
Today, thanks to these colonists, one of Louisiana’s prime economic principles is farming and refining sugarcane. It is produced on nearly 450,000 acres of land in 23 Louisiana parishes.
What’s the Best Candy in the South?
While the leading candy of south Louisiana is Creole Pralines (and not candy bread, which, COME ON?!), Pecan Candy or Pecan Fudge ranks second best.
The third candy on our family’s traditional list (although it’s technically a root vegetable) is Candied Yams, while Divinity (one of the very best traditional candies) is only made occasionally.
Some of the best homemade candy recipes that make my mouth water are:
- Date Loaf Candy (way easier to make than grandma made it out to be)
- Stained Glass Candy
- Divinity (just don’t make it on a rainy day!)
- Chocolate Covered Nuts
- Turtles (no, not REAL turtles, the ones with pecans and caramel with dark chocolate on top)
- Irish Potato Candy
- Pecan Pralines (ok, so this is one of the best…)
- Milk Chocolate Bear Claws
- Roman Candies
- Moon Pies (I know you think these are like a cookie, but they’re like a cookie/candy mix–make sense?!)
- Coconut Patties
- Pecan Logs
- Pull Candy (seriously good stuff)
- Fudge (speaking of, check out my recipe for Buckeye Fudge)
Basic Foundations to Make Traditional Southern Candy
Divinity (and other finniky candy recipes) – If you live where its hot and humid, perhaps you will have heard “it’s too damp to make Divinity”, as my mom would say. This is the case with some candy recipes. If it’s too hot or humid in your home, you’re not going to get good results. So, try to make your homemade candies on a cooler day with low humidity. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s also good to note that you need to also keep your candy in an air-tight container after you make it, so that, if the humidity does change, it’s not melting into goo before you can enjoy it. Because homemade candies are so sweet, it sometimes takes me more than a week to get through even a small batch, even with the kids sneaking bites.
So, I sometimes even keep my candy in an airtight container in the refrigerator and only take out the couple of pieces I want to eat RIGHT THEN and let them come to room temperature.
Nuts – Nuts are used in abundance in southern candies or in toppings for other traditional recipes–and there’s a big tip I’d like to share. Mom always said that, when she was growing up, they didn’t have pecan candy except when the nuts were in-season, and definitely not until the nuts fell from the tree outside and her family had shelled the pecans. Part of the reason we can have nuts anytime now is the improved distribution networks stores have now.
But a key part of making candy with nuts is the flavor and softness of the nut. If you have old or under-ripe nuts, you’re not going to get the best-taste or texture. So, work within the season, if you can, if you can’t, pay attention to the nut and see if you can get a fresh, perfectly ripe set of nuts to make your candy with.
Sugar – Being that sugar is the major basis for making any homemade candy, there are some basic rules to use when dealing with the sticky substance. First, mom never tested her candy boil (sugar, corn syrup and water, you know) with a thermometer. She always used the cold water test method.
What is the cold water test method for candy? Easy. When dropped in cold water, the way the hot syrup behaves indicates whether or not the candy is done. If the syrup is stringy, it may not be quite ready and needs to cook for longer (meaning it’s probably somewhat south of 300-degrees F if you’re using a thermometer). If the syrup forms a ball, a stiff ball that holds it’s shape, that is the indicator that the candy will sit up straight on the plate. So trying 2-3 water tests is likely to occur before you know southern candy is ready to set.
BUT, not all candy recipes call for the hard crack state or soft ball. You have to read the instructions carefully.
Curing – Another point to remember is that southern candy is packed with sugar (if you didn’t know that already). Because of this, it often has to cure, much like a first-century, egg-tempera painting. Only, with traditional southern candy, the sugar hardens a lot quicker than the year required for the egg painting–just a random factoid.
To allow it to cure appropriately, definitely follow the directions on your recipe. Unless your candy recipe says to put it in the fridge to cure, leave it on the counter. If you cure your candy too quickly, it could crack and crumble.
Quick Homemade Candy-Making Tips
Using the tips below will help you with whatever southern confection recipe you choose, and will assist you with turning out exactly the right firmness, consistency and presentation of your candy.
These are the best tips to help you enjoy your sweet tooth fix.
- Keep sugar in an airtight canister. This is a good idea ALWAYS. Not only will this help to keep your sugar fresh and free from lumps, but you’ll also keep out the ants. If you have ever gotten sugar ants in your home, this is one great way to keep them from coming back.
- Always pack brown sugar firmly into your measuring cup. Do you know why you should pack the brown sugar into your measuring cup? It’s to eliminate the air pockets and ensure an accurate measure. So, particularly with lumpy or moist brown sugar, you always pack pack pack.
- If your sugar is rock hard, soften it by warming; either in a pan on the stove or microwave. Do not add water. Just warm it. This does not mean your sugar got wet or that the sugar is no-good. Meaning: don’t throw it out. Just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds.
- Never make candy on a rainy day. “It’s too damp” mom said, but more than just mom’s advice, I’ve actually seen the wet, sticky mess that results from making candy on a rainy day. It’s not pretty. The curing process takes forever, the pralines are all gummy. Just don’t.
- If the recipe demands a 20 minute boil, do not boil 21 minutes. Follow the directions precisely. If your recipe calls for a double boiler, do not just toss the ingredients into a pan and call it done. Take the time, you won’t regret it.
- Use only fresh nuts that were harvested recently. Not only are you going to end up with more moist and easier-to-shell nuts, but you’re also going to end up with more flavor leaching out of the nut and into the candy.
- If its 95 degrees outdoors, put the air conditioner to 68 degrees. And if you have anything on in the house that adds moisture to the air, like a diffuser or anything, turn it off. You really don’t want extra moisture.
- If you do not have a candy thermometer, use the cold water test. Thermometers are pretty accurate and handy. But the cold water test is super duper accurate and won’t fail you. If your candy reaches the right stage, do not keep cooking it. And for the love of everything, take it off the stove. Your stove (especially if it’s electric) will continue to retain heat and keep the temperature rising. So, take it off and get moving on to the next stage of your recipe promptly.
- And lastly, whether you are using white or brown sugar, make sure it is dry and fresh. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to go buy more sugar because it was old and gnarly.
Resources to Make the Best Traditional Southern Candy
Whether you are a homemaker, professional baker or a beginner, southern candy is real easy to make, but there are some tools I’d recommend. These are the great affiliate resources from Amazon that I think help my candy-making efforts a breeze!
If you use these sweet suggestions, you will assuredly not have fallen-off-the-turnip-truck. You will have stepped into a perfect confection direction.
What Kind of Candy Makes a Good Gift?
Basically any candy you can make is the perfect gift. But some candies make better gifts because they travel better and are more suited for storing at room temperature.
I like to gift candy in the form of Turtles, Pecan Pralines, Peanut Butter Brickle, and Stained Glass Candy.
It’s just easy to pack pieces of each of these candies into a tin and share. Plus, none of these candies require refrigeration and I’ve had very little “bad” experience with them melting in room temperature conditions.
So, I pack these candy gift ideas into a tin, wrapped in parchment paper or wax paper (not tissue paper because it will stick to the candy and ruin it).
Then I put a bow on top and I’m done! Candy is an easy gift to make and it shows how much you love a person when you’ve taken the time to make them homemade candy.
More Candy Making Recipes
If you loved this guide to traditional southern candy, be sure to pin it to your favorite candy recipes board. That way you can find it again when you’re needing a little reminder of the best tips for making candy.