The Sweetest Things
Candy made in Louisiana
Cheryl Gerber Photograph
Still selling just three flavors since 1915, The Roman Candy Company’s gourmet taffy has been an iconic New Orleans street treat for nearly a century.
The hand-pulled taffy is still made and sold from a red and white wagon that travels the city streets most often drawn by mules.
The business began with Angelina Napoli Cortese, a Sicilian immigrant who made candy for family and friends for special occasions like Christmas and St. Joseph’s Day.
Her son, Sam Cortese, a street vendor by trade, would bring her leftover candy on his fruit and vegetable wagon to sell the next day.
People began asking for the Roman candy more than the produce, so Sam decided to sell it on a regular basis. He also realized that he would have to find a way to make his Roman Candy as he rolled along.
In 1915, Sam and a wheelwright named Tom Brinker designed the wagon that is still used today. It was painted red and white with “Roman Chewing Candy” displayed on the side.
When Sam died in 1969, his grandson Ron Kottemann took over and continues to operate it to this day.
Made from molasses, the candy is hand-pulled into thin, straight strands. Kottemann then cuts off a piece and wraps it waxed paper. Customers can choose a stick of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry taffy. The wagon, pulled by a trusty mule, makes its rounds in the French Quarter, Audubon Zoo, St. Charles Avenue and other locations. Batches are also shipped around the world.
Just as generations of New Orleanians have grown up unwrapping Roman Candy in the street, they’ve also grown up on another sweet tradition: Elmer’s Gold Brick, Heavenly Hash and Pecan Eggs in their Easter baskets.
Elmer’s Candy Corporation, based in Ponchatoula, opened in 1855. It was started by German immigrant and pastry chef Christopher Henry Miller, who came to New Orleans at the age of 16 and opened the first location on Jackson Avenue in New Orleans.
The Miller family operated Elmer’s over the next century. In the 1960s, partner Roy Nelson bought the company and a third generation of Nelsons run the business today.
Elmer’s Candy Corporation makes a limited variety of candies and only sells them during popular chocolate holidays: Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas. The favorites among New Orleanians are the long-time Easter staples: Heavenly Hash Eggs, which debuted in 1923, and Gold Brick® Eggs, first created in 1936.
Dumas Candy, manufacturing peanut candies, peppermint candies and assorted flavored candy sticks out of Dehli, is another long-time candy maker in Louisiana. It was started in the 1930s by the Jeffries family of El Dorado, Arkansas.
In 1949, H.E. Dumas purchased the company, changed the name to Dumas Candy Company, and it stayed in the family for 38 years until Dave Johnson bought it in 1987. In 1990, Johnson moved the company to its present home in Delhi, where workers still use the same recipes that were established over 80 years ago.
Dumas’ Peanut Patties are hand-poured – one batch at a time – using only a blend of sugar, corn syrup and regular or red peanuts. The company also manufactures unique “stick candy” varieties and a huge 3-pound peppermint stick during the holidays.
Louisiana-made candy used to be a regional delicacy, but these centuries-old candies are now being regularly shipped all over North America, allowing many people to get the sweet taste of Louisiana all year round.
Roman Candy Rum
Roman candy is now being offered in another form: as a rum. When Ron Kottemann, the taffy Roman Candy Man who makes the gourmet taffy from a mule-drawn wagon visited the British Virgin Islands with his wife and sister, they met a couple from Covington, and together they came up with the idea to market and sell Roman Candy Rum in the same three flavors, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Arrangements were made with a Puerto Rican rum distillery to provide the flavored booze. Roman Candy Rum can now be found at New Orleans grocery stores Rouses, Dorignac’s in Metairie and Acquistapace’s Covington Supermarket.