What is it?: Salt water taffy is that chewy sweet treat that comes in an abundance of flavors, from simple chocolate or vanilla to newfangled ones like sour cherry and wild banana, and lollipop colors wrapped up in twisted-end waxed paper. Boxes of it touting various vacation locales on the outside are as common as souvenir gifts as fruitcakes at Christmas.
How it found its way to New Jersey: The lore at the Jersey Shore is that salt water taffy was invented by Atlantic City Boardwalk confectioner David Bradley. His shop was flooded with salt water during a big storm in 1883. The water covered a batch of taffy he was preparing before fleeing for higher ground. The next morning, when a customer asked to buy taffy, Bradley said all he had to offer was some "salt water taffy." The name rolled off the tongue so easily it stuck like taffy on the roof of your mouth.
Why we are wild about it: Salt water taffy is made from sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, glycerine, water, butter, and, of course, a little salt. Despite the name, no salt water is actually used in the process. Various flavorings and colors are added in the final stages. Every year, confectioners try to come up with new flavors, including trendy ones like sea salt caramel and honeydew. But the staples like chocolate, vanilla, banana, and watermelon remain perennial favorites and the biggest sellers.
Where to find it: A fun place to acquire salt water taffy for eating or gift-giving is Shriver's Salt Water Taffy & Fudge, 848 Boardwalk, Ocean City. Besides being able to select your own flavors from buckets and buckets of taffy, you can watch it being made in a glass-enclosed workroom at the back of the store that is nothing short of a Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory experience. You'll see taffy being mixed and pulled and conveyed on bright-green machinery from the 1960s and '70s that churns out as many as 325 pieces of taffy per minute. It's the only shop on the Ocean City Boardwalk that produces its own taffy on the premises, and it's been doing it at the same spot since 1898. More information is available at www.shriovers.com.