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The sweet taste of learning: Harper's Ferry, WV's True Treats Candy

Updated on May 6, 2016

True, the retail area way high up on the hill of Harper's Ferry NHP in West Virginia -- on the way to Jefferson's Rock, what Thomas Jefferson considered the most beautiful view in the world -- is tightly controlled. You're not ever going to see golden arches here.

Even with those high standards, True Treats Candy shop is practically an educational destination on its own! The store -- with another location in Frederick, Maryland -- started selling their wares to history museums in 2010. True Treats Candy doesn't just set out jars of sweets on shelves. Instead, each item is organized chronologically, with history cards laid beside them, describing when, when, where and why they were first made.

The owner -- a food and candy historian -- meticulously researches the background of the candies from original sources, some dating back to 1591. Vintage books and signs decorate the shop.

What's fascinating is how our ideas of candy have changed over the centuries and in some ways, remain the same. You'll find for sale Native American pemmican, made from dried buffalo and cranberries. Sure, there's a hint of sweetness in this winter survival food, but it's plenty gamy, too. It's not a flavor profile that was destined to catch on.

On the other hand, sugary throat lozenges are still popular, though they derive from what we call "Turkish Delight," first made in its current form in 9th century Arab apothecaries. In the US, hard drops like horehound, lemon, sassafras, peppermint and ginger each originally served unique medicinal purposes. It was the same story with the original soda pops -- also sold on the premises -- that first appeared at drug store fountains. To this day, many pharmacies sell "Coke syrup" to be served on crushed ice for severe nausea. You might want to stock up your kitchen cabinet, car and office desk with some of these flavorful remedies.

If you're of a certain age, you'll feel more so when perusing the popular candies of the 1960s and 1970s. You may be shocked to find yourself to be "vintage"!

With history of colonialism, pioneers, slavery, the industrial revolution and pop culture behind candies, this sweet little shop is bound to be a thought provoking conversation starter.

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