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Photo by Christie Rotondo/ Boardwalk pizza is a Wildwood tradition. Photo by Christie Rotondo/ Boardwalk pizza is a Wildwood tradition.
A look at the origins of pizza, fudge, taffy and funnel cake

The beloved tastes of the Wildwoods boardwalk each have a story.

 

In the summer, pizza is sold on nearly every block on that two-and-one-half-mile boardwalk, along with  salt water taffy, fudge and funnel cake.

Pizza is popular year round in the Wildwoods, with pizzerias throughout the island.

The popular belief is that the pizza originally came from Italy, but there is some claim that it had its roots elsewhere in the Mediterranean. One story claims it came from ancient Naples back when it was a Greek city, long before the unification of Italy.

Another story is that it became famous in 1889 after Italy’s Queen Margherita and King Umberto visited Naples. They were said to be tired of all that fancy royal food so they asked Raffaele Esposito, owner of the Pizzeria di Pietro, to cook them something simple like pizza. He quickly obliged and the word got out that if pizza satisfied a king and queen it was good enough for the average man and woman, too.

The message spread across the ocean and America’s first pizza parlor was said to have opened in New York City in 1905. The Wildwoods were well underway by then and while records of this kind have not been kept, it is reasonable to assume that pizza on the boardwalk was not far away.

Another boardwalk favorite, salt water taffy, was said to have been born in the USA before pizza arrived in Manhattan. As were other events that preceded the Wildwoods in Atlantic City and eventually came south to Cape May County, salt water taffy was introduced   by merchant David Bradley when a storm flooded his Atlantic City store in 1883.  He had been selling taffy at 5 cents apiece, but after the storm struck he jokingly referred to his candy as salt water taffy.

Others were to call it “ocean wave taffy” and “sea foam taffy.” Bradley didn’t care what they named it as long as people bought it.

Joseph Fralinger, a well known surname in Cape May and Atlantic counties, was to popularize the candy by placing it in boxes and selling it as a souvenir. Joseph was the cousin of John Fralinger, founder of the Fralinger String Band.

A lawsuit resulted from all this in 1923, when John Edmiston obtained a trademark for the salt water  taffy name and demanded royalties for the use of it.  Two years later the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court which chewed on the issue awhile before deciding that the phrase had been in common use too long for Edmiston to claim royalties.

Following its success in Atlantic City, salt water taffy was to make its way to the Wildwood Boardwalk in the early 1900s at the store of Russian born Louis Sagel at Cedar Avenue. In bold letters on his store he was to advertise it as “Sagel’s Original Salt Water Taffy.”

Soon to come, however, was a bigger and longer lasting family name in the candy making business. Charles Douglass had started a candy business in Philadelphia, but in 1917, as America was in the middle of World War I, he opened a taffy stand on Cedar Avenue and after the war he bought a barracks building from the Navy in Cape May and converted it to a candy store at 3300 Boardwalk. There was competition, as the popularity of this new candy grew. During the summer of 1923, a candy store owned by Clayton Lowe sent 2,500 pounds of taffy each week to as far as Japan and even the Fiji Islands.

But by the time the 1960s arrived, salt water taffy’s popularity was topped by a new candy on the block. It was called fudge.

Where it was founded has been a subject of conjecture for years, but Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY is a good starting point. Emelyn Battersby Hartridge was a student there and she wrote that a Baltimore cousin of her schoolmate made fudge in that Maryland city in 1886. Hartridge obtained a copy of the recipe and in 1888 she made 30 pounds of fudge for the Vassar College Senior Auction.

It was a big hit then and in future years and the word spread to other colleges (Wellesley and Smith) that Vassar had something good taking place in addition to education. They too began fudging it on their campuses

Toward the end of the 19th century fudge made a big commercial debut beyond the college campuses. It became known on Mackinac Island in Michigan and its fame reached beyond its waters.

The news of the new candy’s success at the cash register as well as in the mouth arrived in the Wildwoods much later, in the 1960s, but once it caught on it outdrew salt water taffy in popularity. By the end of those years two pounds of fudge were being sold to every pound of taffy. The trend started at the beginning of the decade when Douglass Candies, then nationally known, sold as much fudge as it did salt water taffy.

Funnel cake, although not as popular as pizza, has held its own on the Wildwood Boardwalk as a specialty food. Its origin, like much of history, is cloudy but it is generally conceded that it was popularized by German immigrants, to become known as Pennsylvania Dutch, who brought it to this country in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Funnel cake, so named because the batter is poured through a funnel into hot oil, has been made famous by way of the Kutztown Folk Festival, and the food has become a staple of other festivals as well as amusement parks. The Pennsylvania Dutch have probably been an influence on the cake’s popularity on the Wildwoods boardwalk.

(Some of the information in this article was researched in the book, “Wildwood By The Sea,” by David W. and Diane DeMali Francis and Robert J. Scully Sr.)


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