Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy
If you’re in the mood for some candy, there are plenty of places to go. Whether it’s a Snickers Bar, a pack of Starburst, or a bag of Sour Patch Kids, popular candy brands can be found at just about any supermarket, Wawa, or gas station. But if you want a little nostalgia with your treat, that’s another story. While big box and convenience stores have a plethora of options for satisfying your sweet tooth, there are few places that can also satisfy the wistful yearning for days gone by. For that, you’ll need to head to Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy on the Washington Street Mall.
Fralinger’s looks just how you’d expect a store on the mall to look—a large Victorian situated on the corner of Washington and Jackson streets with a pale pink façade, green trim, and green and white striped awnings complete with large windows full of whimsical seasonal decorations alongside boxes of and jars of salt water taffy. And while the exterior seems to harken back to another time, it’s rather apropos for Victorian Cape May. It’s the interior of this little candy shop on the mall that’s truly steeped in another era—a step into Fralinger’s is a step into the past.
Pink walls topped with a floral border set the tone inside Fralinger’s, where guests are treated to décor that includes antique gilded mirrors, embossed ceiling tiles, etched glass, and vintage sconces scattered throughout the shop. The anchoring display cases are enormous wooden structures from a pub in England, brought to Cape May via an antique shop. “There are three Fralinger’s stores: in Atlantic City, one in Ocean City, and ours,” says Kim Vogelsong, Assistant Manager of the Fralinger’s in Cape May. “We think ours is the nicest.”
The star of this old-fashioned setting, often packed with visitors and tourists clamoring for something special, is the candy. And oh, what a selection of candy there is. Unlike the modern, over-illuminated candy stores in many tourist destinations—with novelties like roasted crickets being sold to a raucous Lady Gaga beat—almost every candy item in Fralinger’s speaks to a bygone time. Whether it’s glass jars full of old-fashioned stick candy in flavors like butterscotch, root beer, tangerine and lemon lime, rock candy on a stick, licorice bites in bright colors, fruit slices, wax bottles or candy cigarettes, there’s something for everyone, and something reminiscent of everyone’s childhood.
For some people, it’s the old-fashioned chocolate covered molasses paddles, a Fralinger’s staple. For this writer, it was the tri-color Neapolitan coconut candy bar with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavored coconut. Sweet and delicious, it brought back decades-old memories of family walks on the boardwalk. For her editor? Delightfully creamy caramellows, pillowy marshmallows dipped in caramel.
“They’re crazy decadent,” says Cape May Magazine editor Kate Chadwick. “Plus, they were my mother’s favorite, so they always remind me of her.” That’s the charm of Fralinger’s. Customers think they’re getting a sweet treat, but what they’re really getting is a memory.
“I try to have a lot of nostalgic stuff available because people come in and you hear them say, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen this since I was a child,’” says Vogelsong. “This year, we wrote down when many of the candies were invented.”
And yet, none of those treats were the original focus of Fralinger’s. Instead, its very heart, which was started in 1885 by former Philadelphia glass blower turned fish merchant Joseph Fralinger, is salt water taffy. According to the James Candy Company website, which acquired Fralinger’s in 1990: when marriage brought Fralinger to Atlantic City—where he initially sold mineral water, fruits, and lemonade via a boardwalk concession stand—he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
“In 1884, he happened to be in the right place at the right time, where he was given the opportunity to take over a taffy concession stand. After agreeing, he took the entire winter of 1885 studying books on confections and perfecting taffy making, and by the springtime, he made his first batch of salt water taffy to sell,” according to JamesCandy.com. “Fralinger earned his name as the ‘king of salt water taffy’ as he pioneered a new way to sell it. His time as a fish merchant inspired him to package an assortment of the taffy into one-pound oyster tins. This became Atlantic City’s first souvenir.”
Salt water taffy remains a shore tradition and hugely popular vacation souvenir. Plus, it’s pretty delicious. “Customer favorites are banana and strawberry,” says Vogelsong. “But molasses is the original flavor, which kind of shocked me. But then again, you think back to the olden days, and it makes sense.”
These days, there’s a large selection of Fralinger’s salt water taffy flavors including—but not limited to—chocolate, lemon, lime, licorice, molasses mint, orange, peach, peanut butter, peppermint, root beer, teaberry, vanilla, candy apple, watermelon, pina colada, and more. There are also a number of chocolate-sealed salt water taffy in flavors like banana, cherry, chocolate, coconut, orange, peanut, raspberry, peppermint, and vanilla. And while there’s plenty of history and nostalgia that comes with Fralinger’s salt water taffy, there have been some changes.
“Now we have a recipe with no dairy because of so many people with different allergies,” says Vogelsong. “It’s also gluten free. And we change the recipe a bit according to the weather, because when it’s too hot out, we have to make it a little bit stronger, so it doesn’t melt. We change the temperature to suit the different times of the year.”
From taffy, Joseph Fralinger added other treats based on family recipes, things like almond macaroons and peanut butter chews—both of which are still available. The selection at Fralinger’s continued to grow with homemade fudge, creamy mint sticks, fresh and candied nuts, chocolate-covered salted caramels, chocolate-covered pretzels, non-pareils and so much more. And though there are a few modern novelties at Fralinger’s—it seems you can’t have a candy store in 2022 without some Slime Lickers or efrutti gummies—it’s the classic treats, the stuff from our youth (and our elders’ youth) that makes Fralinger’s so worth the visit. From the very young to the young-at-heart, Fralinger’s lets everyone feel like a kid again. ■
Fralinger’s324 Washington Street Mall,
Cape May, NJ 08204