Category Archives: Talks & Tastings

Philly

Historic Philly Sign

Historic Philly Sign

I just gave a talk about the history of candy at the Historical Society in Philadelphia. The most amazing aspect of the “City of Brotherly Love,” more than the architecture, the ports, or the gardens, is the people. Sitting curbside at a Cuban restaurant afterwards, I watched the parade of humanity go by: Muslim women with hijabs, Latino families with dark-eyed children, a Vietnamese cook in chief’s whites, European American students chatting at a nearby café, and two African American workers with key-laden rings at their hips.

Philadelphia Talk & Tasting by Susan Benjamin

Philly Girls

As for candy – for most people, candy is a metaphor, a metaphor based on the experience of love. For generations, grandmothers have fished sweets from their purses for eager grandchildren; lovers have shared chocolates in ribbon-wrapped boxes; and on occasion children have given candy to their teachers, bosses to their secretaries, and friends to each other. They are the stuff of birthday parties and weddings: they are us.

Philadelphia Cuban Restaurant

Philadelphia Cuban Restaurant

You could also say that our diversity is a metaphor for sweets, but it’s more literal than that. Chocolate originated in Mesoamerica and was eaten by Native Americans, long prepared with sugar from India and spices from Asia, or as a coating on Mediterranean almonds, British raisins, and North African coffee beans, first consumed by Muslim men. The hard candies were European and jellies from the ancient Arabic Apothecaries.  The brittle came with the Irish fleeing starvation, while the peanut traveled from Argentina to Africa then back on slave ships whose struggling inhabitants produced the sugar with the strength of survivors, which they were.

We owe them, all of them, gratitude. They are the sea of inhabitants in Philadelphia, new arrivals and countless generations. That’s it. Love. Brotherly, sisterly and for all time.

In Virginia? Skip Trip Advisor and Head Here

Ready to sell tickets at the Rising Sun Tavern

Ready to sell tickets at the Rising Sun Tavern

I’ve been traveling around the country quite a bit these days and am always delighted to be hitting the road in Virginia. Last weekend, I found myself speaking in two beautifully historic places: Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. My recommendation: visit both (they’re only 90 minutes apart), spend time walking around the historic area, enjoy the wonderful stores, then head over to the Rising Sun Tavern and the Albemarle County Historical Society.

The Ultimate Deck at Rising Sun Tavern

The Ultimate Deck at Rising Sun Tavern

Rising Sun Tavern: Fredericksburg, VA

This former tavern was originally built in 1760 as a home for Charles Washington, George’s younger brother. About 30 years later, it became a tavern and popular gathering place for travelers. The interior has a cool, 18th century feel, with warm woodwork and well-preserved artifacts that express the time-period beautifully. Happy as I was to give the talk, I wanted to spend time just looking at the furniture, glassware and much more. Of course, from my perspective, there’s nothing like telling visitors about 18th century chocolate, sugar and other “sweets” in a space where it was likely eaten. As for the deck: so vast and comfortable you might want to relax for a few hours…too bad they don’t carry the original liquid refreshment! Before you head out, check the hours as the Tavern offers tours, staff dressed in period garb.

Albemarle County Historical Society

Albemarle County Historical Society

Albemarle County Historical Society: Charlottesville

So, here’s what you do: go for a stroll in the area around the Historical Society building, go out for lunch, and do a little shopping. But…before you do, find out what events are on tap that day. The Historical Society has walking tours and exhibits, all tastefully and professionally done and hosted by a welcoming staff.  At my talk, the audience felt welcome by their hosts, as did I – we had lots of laughs and great discussions.They even tried some of the really early candies I gave them without hesitation. In case you’re worried about parking, no problem. There’s a reasonably charged parking lot right down the street.