Taffy Grapes are Chicago’s finest dessert sold by the tub

Illustration for article titled Taffy Grapes are Chicago’s finest dessert sold by the tub
Photo: Marnie Shure

I believe I first snagged the recipe in 2010, at a cousin’s baby shower. My cousin’s wife’s mother had gotten the recipe either from her sister or perhaps from her book club, or maybe it was her sister’s book club. This, by the way, is the sort of network through which all the best recipes are acquired in the Midwest, when they’re not plucked straight from a well-stained church cookbook that has spent at least 30 years proving itself in the kitchen. Picked up in this manner—a hallowed oral tradition, passed down from party host to party guest—some recipes don’t even retain their names; they might only go by “thingy” or simply a list of their ingredients. Such was the case with Taffy Grapes, until a 2017 Chicago Tribune article taught me not only their proper name, but also their status as a particularly Chicago phenomenon.

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What are they? Simply put, Taffy Grapes are green grapes dipped in white candy coating (aka almond bark) and rolled in crushed peanuts. But somehow, through the transformational magic of our palates (or our brains?), the three-ingredient combo is a dead ringer—taste-wise anyway—for a taffy apple. And people can’t get enough of them.

As the Tribune explains, the exact origin of Taffy Grapes is unclear, but at the time the article was published in 2017, journalist Cheryl V. Jackson noted they’ve been “around for about six years.” They began as a South Side phenomenon whose popularity quickly spread to the West Side, south suburbs, and beyond. Businesses as varied as chicken shops (Harold’s!), fish shops (Sharks!), and even barbershops and nail salons began stocking plastic containers of Taffy Grapes sourced from independent suppliers specializing in the delicacy. Anywhere Taffy Grapes could be found, Jackson wrote, the inventory was flying off the shelves. One supplier, Tamara Brown, was so successful that she opened a brick-and-mortar storefront for her operation, Nadia’s Gourmet Grapes, which sold the grapes in a range of flavors.

Though the trend seems to have cooled just slightly—few other news outlets have covered the sweet snack since the Tribune did four years ago—Taffy Grapes are very much still here, and they’re still delicious, widely popular, and perfect for toting to a backyard barbecue. They’ll always be part of my spring and summer repertoire, and you should make them a part of yours, too. But if anyone asks where you got the recipe, you can tell them it came from your aunt’s best friend’s sister-in-law. That way everyone will know it’s good.


Taffy Grapes

Makes about 50 grapes

  • 4 oz. white almond bark
  • 1-2 bunches of large green seedless grapes
  • 3 oz. crushed peanuts

Wash the grapes and pat them dry with a paper towel, removing moisture from their surface, then freeze for a few minutes to firm them up. Fill a shallow dish (like a saucer) with a layer of crushed peanuts and set aside.

Melt the almond bark in the microwave or over the stove according to package directions, then give it a stir to make sure it’s smooth. Remove grapes from freezer and pat again to make sure they’re dry, otherwise the candy coating won’t stick. Working quickly, dip the top half of each grape into the almond bark, then roll it in the crushed peanuts to coat. Lay on wax paper to set. Once you’ve dipped as many grapes as you like and they’ve all had a chance to set on the wax paper, place them in a wax-paper-lined container and store in the fridge. Let stand at room temperature a few minutes before serving. They should keep for 2-3 days.

Don’t feel like dipping your own Taffy Grapes? No problem—there are lots of independent businesses to buy them from! Find more on Instagram and Facebook.

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Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

I’m not saying these aren’t a thing, but I’ve lived in Chicago for 53 years and never heard of them.