The Washington State Legislature is about to make the most important decision of 2009. This decision has nothing to do with the viaduct or Sound Transit or education or arts budgets. No. What Washington lawmakers are poised to decide is whether or not the locally made, powdered-sugar-covered confection Aplets & Cotlets should be declared the official candy for the state of Washington.
Food-loving people of the Pacific Northwest: We cannot let this happen.
House Bill 1024 states that Aplets & Cotlets would be the perfect state candy because "the tree fruit industry is a vital part of the state's economy" and "Aplets and Cotlets have been produced in Washington for over seventy years and identify Washington State to consumers worldwide." The bill also recognizes that it's time for Washington to declare a state candy because the "legislature has designated specific symbols in a number of categories as the official representative for the state of Washington."
I agree that it's time to declare a state candy—it'd be fun, and it'd support the idea of a vibrant (and tasty) Northwest food culture. We already have a state tree (western hemlock), bird (willow goldfinch), fish (steelhead trout), even a state gem, dance, and fossil (petrified wood, square dance, and Columbian mammoth, respectively). But if Washington officially claims any candy at all, we cannot let it be goddamn Aplets & Cotlets.
Just look at that pitiful list of official symbols. They all suck. The fish is ugly, and there's no way petrified wood should count as a "gem." And square dance? Seriously?
Are we going to add to that list a messy, globby pile covered in powdered sugar that sticks to your teeth? Do we really want to brag to the world about our love of unsophisticated fruit-flavored goo?
This isn't the first time the legislature has been faced with this issue: In 2001, a bill to make Tacoma-produced Almond Roca the state candy was presented and denied. Thank Christ. Although tasty, Almond Roca looks like something left in a cat box. That is not what we want people to think of when they think of Washington State.
The introduction of this new bill has reignited the heated debate: Almond Roca or Aplets & Cotlets? Cat poo or sugar goo? As if those two sweets were our only choices.
Legislators of Washington are sadly overlooking far better options, options that are a bit classier, more elegant, yet still fantastic representatives of our culture and economy. Frango chocolates, for instance, in their variety of flavors, have been a Northwest tradition since 1918 (it says so right on the famous six-sided box). They were originally created by and for the department store Frederick & Nelson, which went out of business in 1992. Then the Bon Marche bought the recipe, continuing to manufacture and carry Frangos through its evolution into Macy's. Throughout many decades of changes, tasty little Frango chocolates have survived—that's how awesome and beloved they are. Even though the candy has gone national with Macy's, the Northwest version is still manufactured by local company Seattle Chocolates, and their roots lie right here. Plus, they're motherfucking delicious.
But maybe Frango chocolates have gotten away from us a little bit, being no longer exclusive to the Northwest. What about Seattle-made Fran's Chocolates salted caramels? They're pricey little treats (about $6.50 for three), but they're handmade in small batches and worth every cent. With their pungent smoked or gray salt delicately sprinkled on top, Fran's are the best chocolate caramels I have ever eaten. They're gorgeous and delicious, sophisticated but indulgent. Their ingredients personify what Washington is all about—the smooth caramel and chocolate represents the dairy farms in Eastern Washington, while the salt nods to the smell of the air as it wafts in from Puget Sound. And just like Washington State itself, the salted caramels are dualistic in nature—familiar and conservative on the inside with an invigorating, progressive rind of spice on the edge.
Fran's doesn't have the same history as Frango chocolates, Almond Roca, or Aplets & Goddamn Cotlets, but founder Fran Bigelow has been making candy professionally for 25 years and the company is dedicated to using as many locally found ingredients as possible—for example, Fran's gets its cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy in Lynden and its peppermint from Yakima. (Also worth noting: Both Barack and Michelle Obama have named Fran's dark chocolate with smoked salt caramels as their personal faves.)
Washington State is a state of innovators—Bill Gates, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix. It's time for our candy to reflect just how far Washington State has come. We're no longer as boring as petrified wood. Our candy shouldn't be either.
This article has been updated since its original publication.