Fringe Candy: In Praise of Abba Zaba

I have my old friend Pat Watson to thank for this. See, I’ve known Pat since way back in the day. We were pretty tight back in sixth grade. Then he went off and moved to California for a while to live with his dad. By the time he returned to our shitty little mountain town, we were in high school. And he had a new candy obsession: Abba-Zaba. You might never have tasted one, but if you have, you’d remember. You might also remember the bright yellow and black checkerboard wrapper. It’s distinctive and eye catching in a way that NECCO aren’t. It says, “Hey, kid…you want some candy?” – but not in a creepy voice. In entices you like a favorite uncle who is sneaking you a treat that mom won’t let you have.

Dating back to the 20’s when it was made by the now defunct Cardinet Candy Company, Abba-Zaba was eventually acquired by the Annabelle Candy Company. Yes, Annabelle’s…the Hershey’s of the taffy world. The original bar consists of a layer of peanut butter between two creamy layers of taffy. See, you’re learning something today. It’s not just sugar with me. It’s also love and history. And a big part of my enjoyment of pretty much anything is the history behind that anything.

Now, my love affair with taffy goes way back to the salt-water taffy that some families would give instead of mini chocolate bars at Halloween. I was pretty much indiscriminate where it came to taffy: peppermint or cinnamon or licorice…didn’t matter. It was all good. Plus, my mom had a weird mindset that if candy wasn’t covered by chocolate, it was somehow healthier. So it was easier to get away with taffy than a chocolate bar of any stripe. And I’ll still get a little bit weak in the knees when I pass a store that has a great salt-water taffy selection. But that’s now why we’re here today.

Abba-Zaba…that was special. For one, you couldn’t get them in Durango. Pat had to request a box of them from his dad back in Burbank, and he shared with a few close friends, like any good pusher would. Something about the scarcity combined with the hit of salty peanut butter between the creamy sweetness made the Abba-Zaba stand out. When I moved to Seattle, I discovered them at a little store near my downtown bus stop. They only had a few left in the box, and I vaguely recall them being a bit stale. Didn’t matter. I cleaned them out. And I kept checking back, introducing the uninitiated into the deliciousness that lay behind that cheery cellophane wrapper.

I hear you can get them with apple taffy now, and while that sounds tasty, try the original if you should spot one of these in the wild. And if you want to share, use the trick used by all taffy experts: freeze the bar, then smack the wrapped bar on a counter-top. Open carefully and you will have easily sharable pieces.

And if you enjoy peanut butter or taffy at all, you’re in for a treat.

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