Black History Month is a time to celebrate and embrace the painful yet beautiful history that came from our mothers and fathers before us. In previous years, and even now, Black-owned restaurants have been showcased and promoted to the public, but often we need to remember about our Black-owned bakeries, sweet shops, and candy-making business. “The history of Black people in the category of candy and sweets is pretty much not addressed or addressed in the wrong way,” said Susan Benjamin, candy historian and the owner of True Treats Candy, the nation’s only research-based historic candy company. Candy and sweets have been a staple for many Black communities, and it all started with Norbert Rillieux.
Rillieux was a Black engineer in the 18th century who was sent by his father to Paris at 23. He became the youngest engineering professor in Paris and invented an evaporating system to make sugar. “He came back to North America, and he went from one plantation to another, teaching them how to use the evaporation system,” said Benjamin. “And that system is still in use today.” For a long time, candy making was a male-dominated occupation, according to Barbara McGarrah, the owner and founder of Barb’s Brittles. Barb’s Brittles has catered to Tallahassee with delicious homemade brittles and ice cream for 22 years. Barb’s Brittles also won Florida’s best ice cream award in 2021.
“I started off making brittle for my family, as I always had a knack for baking,” McGarrah said. “I originally was studying fashion design, but people began to request my brittle at craft shows.” McGarrah prides herself on the uniqueness and authenticity of her brittles and ice cream, which are both homemade. “When I won the best ice cream award for the whole state of Florida, I knew that Barb’s Brittles was limitless in its potential, and it reinforced to me that people will like what I sell and I do not have to do the promoting when the products speak for themselves,” McGarrah said. “One thing I will always know is that you are better off with the choices that God has made for you, and with that, I know that it is time to do better things.”
Being a female candymaker in a male-dominated area never stopped McGarrah’s drive to serve the best products to her customers. McGarrah stated that she does not limit herself in terms of her business and that being a Black female candymaker is just a first in her line of experience. “I like to say that my business is a piece of history that just so happens to be Black,” McGarrah said. “As Black people, we do not have to limit ourselves, you just have to let your products speak for themselves, and you will attract customers who want them.”
Products speaking for themselves can be attributed to word of mouth, which is exactly how this Black brownie and cookie business took off. The Chocolate Dandies have served delicious gourmet brownies and cookies to Tallahassee for almost three years. Noble, Royal, and Knight Sissle are three brothers who were introduced to this business as young entrepreneurs. The Chocolate Dandies received their name from their great grandfather, the late Noble Sissle’s broadway musical. “This all started when my son Noble began to look for ways to earn some money by selling infused water,” their mother, Enrika Sissle, said. “That idea fizzled out, and I remembered that their father had sold brownies in college and made money off of them, and my son loves chocolate, so that idea just came to be.”
Sissle stated that entrepreneurship was not a sought out goal of her family, but they made it as their father wanted it to be a big thing. “It was definitely something that I didn’t think too much about, but I was told that If you don’t have a job, make a job, and that pushed our spirit of entrepreneurship.” The Chocolate Dandies pride themselves on doing their part in promoting Black History. “Noble is currently campaigning on what Black History Month means to him and was able to speak with former senator Al Lawson on spreading information and knowledge of Black heritage,” Sissle said. “We promote Black history because it is important to know and a privilege to carry on the legacy of their great grandfather who was a Black lyricist, band leader, and playwright.”
The history of candy and sweets for Black people is vibrant, extensive, and a confirmation of our never-ending contributions to modern cuisine.