About halfway from Austin to my parents' house lies a small landmark of a building known as the Dutchman's Hidden Valley. Reminiscent of road trips across languishing highways, the dilapidated signs that mark the 15--10--5--and 1--mile to the store serve as reminders of the anticipation that a quality old-fashioned rest stop must can conjure up in an age when electronics didn't dominate the road trip. (Personally, my favorite activity as a young road-tripper was marking a legal pad with each kind and how many 18-wheelers we saw in a day. When your Texan family drives to Canada for summer vacation, you've got to do something to keep from having a permanent blur of grassy fields in your vision.)
Entering the Dutchman's Hidden Valley is kind of like searching through your grandmother's back room: There's some antiques, some frilly rose water - but more importantly there's a hell of a lot of candy. After roaming through the antiques section (which I swear hasn't changed since before I was born) you stumble upon the workers who are making a batch of homemade candy which they sell--most often, the salt-water taffy which has caused yours truly to lose more than a few baby teeth. The stuff is sticky and addictive, with a soft touch that I haven't found in other salt water taffies. In front, the business sells their handmade candies, fudge and chocolates as well as old-fashioned candies that are brought in from other institutions.
Catching up on reading a few books before my last trip up north, I stumbled upon Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. The author, a professor with a voracious sweet tooth, roams across America in search of the historical and sometimes extinct types of small-batch candy that used to dominate the American landscape. Today, many classic candy bars are manufactured by Hershey's, Nestle, or Mars - but the really interesting bars are the ones that have stood the test of time. One of my favorite childhood treats, and one that I can always find at the Hidden Valley, is Valomilk marshmallow chocolate cups. Steve Almond, the author of Candyfreak, dedicates a chapter to the ridiculous process of shipping easy-melting chocolate marshmallow cups in hot summer months to the southern institutions that enjoy stocking them. The Sifers Candy company makes only Valomilks and from easy-to-read ingredients, which is always a plus.
But, of course, the best part is the candy itself. What's there to say about a runny marshmallow cup? It's messy, sticky, and a very unique sugary experience.
This is what it looks like after you take a bite - the chocolate cracks open and starts oozing. It's not the same as marshmallow fluff - instead, it's much stickier and runnier, so the creme gums up the inside of your mouth just long enough until the solids from the chocolate help un-stick the mess from your tongue. And then you want more, which is how the good candy bars keep selling. Speaking of which... go try Valomilks for yourself!