Sweet Talkin' Blog

The Blues, Robert Johnson and the Hot Tamale Connection

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The history of the blues, Robert Johnson, and the tamale are fascinating and interlocked. Let’s start with the blues – a uniquely American form of music that reflects personal longing and historic strife. The roots of the blues began in the Mississippi Delta – an area that extends from Vicksburg Mississippi to Memphis Tennessee. There, on cotton plantations, enslaved laborers struggled under dire conditions, unfathomable to most Americans today. One of their resources for survival were a confluence of songs rooted in their Western Africa cultures that they sung in the fields in unified voices, call-and-response interactions, and individual hollers….

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Chocolate Balls Are In and They’re Amazing!

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So excited! We just received our first batch of cacao balls from Grenada – used to make chocolate tea…a true delight, I can assure you! I discovered them during my trip last month…after a few interviews and visits to farmers’ collectives and other such places, I got the story behind the drink. Here’s how you make a chocolate ball, as told to me by someone at a Grenadian nutmeg processing company…aka the GCNE Nutmeg Pool How to make a chocolate roll – aka chocolate balls As described at the Pick a cacao pod Take the cacao bean out of the…

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Grenada – Ian Roberts: Mangos of the Island

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Ian Roberts is a craftsman who sells bracelets and other trinkets from a stall at the beach. He uses black coral and other natural elements which he polishes and shapes using a cigarette lighter. The results are finely crafted pieces with a rich amber hue. My people came from indentured Indian people who mixed with Africans. There were so many races here, the Indian people, the Africans, they mixed with the overseers. My people came after slavery and signed a five-year contact. After the contract ended, they stayed. Maybe it was better than in India. Maybe they didn’t have enough…

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Grenada – Alvin Heinz: Cacao Tea

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Alvin Heinz spends much of his day in a tree outside the Radisson Hotel at the Grand Anse beach or at St. Georges when the cruise ships come in. He carves coconut shells into polished dolphins, palm trees, nutmegs, and other medallions which he sells to tourists. His job, he says, is to make sure they have a good time on the island. When they come, he says, they bring money. I am 46. I was raised by my great-grandmother. My grandmother lived with her mother. We would all wait for money from my mother. She lived in Trinidad. I…

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New! Gummy Cola

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A little known fact: the gummy candy started life as the Turkish Delight – a medicine used for sore throat around 900CE – and is a cousin to the Chuckles and jelly bean. Our question: which new gummy should we introduce at the store? The consensus: the gummy cola. And let me tell you –they’re flying off the shelves. More than the gummy bear, gummy bear, and even the jelly beans! I’m serious m- they’re delicious.

The Story of Hate and Love

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Throughout my career as a candy researcher, I have encountered much love – candy that grandparents gave to grandchildren, parents gave to their kids, lovers gave to each other. I’ve also encountered hate through the realities of the displacement of Naive Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and the horrors of the spice trade, to name a few. These were no economic activities – they were rooted in a hate that makes the most egregious activities  commonplace. So, when I confronted hate in my hometown of Shepherdstown, West Virginia I expected the community to rise up against it. Yet, that…

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The Almost-Astonishing Story of Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy

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From Ice Cream Cones to a Retro Candy Favorite As you may remember, in my previous blog “The Almost-Astonishing Story of Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy” I revealed the ascent of the peppermint pattie from Henry C. Kessler’s first ever smooth-and-creamy filled York Peppermint Pattie to the Welsh-Brothers’ Junior Miss nine years later. But, let us not forget all those other peppermint patties that rose up through the 40’s and beyond, including our newest (old-time) peppermint patties, using an original 1940s recipe from the original shop. They were a favorite at mid-20th century family-run candy stores and likely made an appearance…

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Grenada- Carl David: The Cane and the Corn

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“Without working, you cannot inherit your part in life.” Carl David is a taxi driver and our guide while researching the spices on the island Grenada. He left school when 11 years old. He helped his family grow yams, sweet potatoes, corn and sugar cane. Later, he held many jobs, among them a diver, pipe-fitter at the water works, and soldier for revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop. He said the revolution taught him much and made him “sensible.” He said people worked hard back then. They don’t work as hard today. I was born in 1954. My mother moved to Trinidad…

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Cinnamon Tree

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What is this gnarled tree? Today we know it well – we use its bark as a flavoring and garnish which we associate with love, comfort and fun. Yet for millennia, it had multifold uses in the Mideast, Mediterranean, and Asia – as a perfume, spice, embalming agent, medicine, appetite stimulator, digestive, and, like so much else,  aphrodisiac. It was transported from Asia through the brutality and currency of the spice trade and has had a a leading player in the American food and beverage landscape since the 1700s.  It’s the cassia, aka cinnamon, tree. “I have perfumed my bed…

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Grandma’s Hard Candy: More than a Sweet Treat

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Candy serves many purposes – a reward, pick-me-up, breath-freshener, and symbol such as the candy cane and Easter chocolate eggs. But none is so embedded with meaning on an everyday level as the hard candies that grandmothers’ kept in their candy bowls at home or their purses, dispensing them to children and, above all, grandchildren. No mere treat, these candies were loaded with meaning that rose from the World Wars and Great Depression. At those difficult times, sugar was in short supply – during war they went straight to the soldiers and in economic crises they were too expensive to…

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