Goo Goo Cluster marks 100th anniversary

Sunday, August 5, 2012
A combination of marshmallow creme, caramel, nuts, and chocolate, this pie, a tribute to the famous Goo Goo Cluster, is a great way to celebrate the candy’s 100th birthday. (TOM HARTE)

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together," said Vincent Van Gogh. In other words, combinations of things are almost always better than the things by themselves.

A cross section of the Goo Goo Cluster reveals its combination of layered ingredients: marshmallow creme, caramel, nuts, and chocolate. (TOM HARTE)

Thus, combination locks (technically permutation locks, a mathematician would say) are more secure than mere locks with keys, a combination of drugs is often the best prescription for a patient, and the victor in a boxing match is not likely the one who throws the same punch over and over but one who strategically strings together a group of punches, called a boxing combination.

A combination of ingredients, of course, is what most cooking is all about. There aren't that many foods that we eat all by themselves. Even caviar is usually eaten on a cracker (and maybe washed down with vodka), and only the finest strawberries, like those found wild in France, don't benefit from a sprinkling of sugar and a splash of cream.

This principle of combination is what drove Howard H. Campbell Sr., founder of the Standard Candy Company in Nashville, and Porter Moore, his plant manager, to create the very first combination or multi-ingredient candy bar. They christened their bar, actually a roundish blob and not a rectangular block, the Goo Goo Cluster. This year it's celebrating its 100th anniversary. (The Snickers bar, for many years now the best-selling candy bar in America and itself a combination bar, would not come on the scene until almost 20 years after the debut of the Goo Goo Cluster.)

Before the Goo Goo Cluster, candy bars, invented around the turn of the last century, were merely lumps of caramel, or hunks of taffy, or just solid slabs of chocolate -- not that there's anything wrong with that. But Campbell and Moore had a better idea.

In 1912, on Nashville's Clark Street and First Avenue North, where they had been in business for 10 years or so peddling hard candies, marshmallows and lollipops, they got the bright idea to combine some caramel, marshmallow nougat, and roasted peanuts in one of their copper kettles and hand-dip the resulting blobs in chocolate. Initially sold unwrapped and displayed under glass at drug store candy counters, the new confection, with its amalgamation of tastes and textures, became an overnight sensation and soon "the South's Favorite Candy," as iconic as Maine's whoopee pies, Louisiana's pralines or New Jersey's saltwater taffy.

A slice of Goo Goo Pie, containing the very same combination of ingredients as its famous namesake, the Goo Goo Cluster candy bar. (TOM HARTE)

Available now online and at Cracker Barrel Stores nationwide, the cluster is still predominantly a regional brand (it's hard to compete nationally with giants like Mars and Hershey's, who between them are responsible for every one of the top 10 candy bars in the U.S.), though it did receive wider exposure when it was a principal sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, some people think that the candy's name derives from the venerable radio show's initials: G-O-O. But the candy was invented more than a dozen years before the show's debut.

In truth, the name was inspired by what is conventionally thought to be a baby's first words -- goo goo. Campbell thought his new confection was so good that people would ask for it from birth.

Goo Goo Pie

What better way to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Goo Goo Cluster than with a pie that uses the same combination of ingredients?

1 baked pie shell

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

16-ounce container marshmallow fluff

1 cup redskin peanuts

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped milk chocolate

Spread 3/4 cup caramel ice cream topping on bottom of baked pie shell. In bowl of electric mixer beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add marshmallow fluff and blend on low speed until thoroughly combined. By hand fold in nuts and 1 cup chopped chocolate. Spread mixture in pie shell on top of caramel layer. Scatter remaining 2 tablespoons chopped chocolate over top and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of caramel topping. Chill and serve.

A box of Goo Goo Clusters in retro packaging designed to honor the candy’s 100th birthday. (TOM HARTE)

Tom Harte's book, "Stirring Words," is available at local bookstores. A Harte Appetite airs Fridays 8:49 a.m. on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Contact Tom at semissourian.com or at the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699.

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