When I decided that I needed to try every piece of candy from the world’s longest candy counter, I will admit I did not think it through.
But it seemed like such a good idea at the time! An adventure, even, to take a day trip into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the idyllic small town of Littleton. There, on Main Street, is Chutters, with its purple awnings and its windows full of Willy Wonka–style enticements. Even if you didn’t know the candy shop held a world record, you’d know something sweet was inside: As you approach, even the air outside smells like sugar.
Chutters is a great place to try new things. It offers more than 500 kinds of candy on its record-breaking 112 feet of candy counter, plus cases full of 50+ flavors of fudge and 170+ handmade chocolate varieties, and seasonal displays in the front. Many of these candies you’ve seen before, and many of them are rare or out of fashion and therefore hard to find.
But by “try new things,” Chutters probably didn’t mean “try one of everything.” Opening and closing all those jars to get one piece of each candy from all 112 feet took two of us over an hour.
“Has anyone ever done this before?” I asked the not-thrilled cashier, trying to fill the awkward silence as she rang everything up.
“No,” she said with a finality that expressed everything I needed to know.
At long last running my card, she said, “this is the longest receipt I’ve ever seen.” She wasn’t wrong. Think about the longest CVS receipt you’ve ever seen, then double it. When all was said and done, it cost over $300. I told you, I did not think this through. But there was no turning back.
My first step in this process, before I even eat anything, is to lay it all out to photograph, and then sort into groups. Though I am filled with dread by the idea of eating a gummy fried egg the size of my palm or a literal set of gummy dentures, I have major nostalgia for the time-honored tradition of dumping my trick-or-treating loot on the living room floor and sorting out my haul.
Into one bag go 75 flavors of Jelly Bellies. Into another, all the varieties of gum and gumballs. Next, rock candy and candy rocks (they’re very different). A bag of colorful taffy. A monochromatic bag of way, way more kinds of black licorice than should lawfully exist. We’re ready to taste.
To start out strong, I try the vast array of Reese’s varieties—Reese’s Cups in milk, dark and white chocolate varieties, and a peanut butter cup with Reese’s Pieces inside—and the Reese’s candy bars like Nutrageous (great), Fast Break (not great), Take 5 (good), Hershey’s Chocolate Bar with Reese’s Pieces (awful).
Then I dig into some old-fashioned cup candies, starting with a Clark Cup, a “peanut butter cup with Clark crunch.” I’ve never had a Clark Bar, so I’m surprised when I bite in and candy pieces fly everywhere, but once I get used to the required eating method (over the trash) I like the crunchy, peanutty pieces inside. Mallo Cups are another first for me: milk chocolate exterior filled with marshmallow and coconut creme that reminds me of Fluff.
I’m only taking one bite of everything and, for the sake of brevity, condensing the time frame of tasting that I did over the course of weeks. But at the beginning, I am still naively optimistic, I save the remainder of the ones I like in case I want to go back to them later. (I did not, in fact, go back to them later.)
After taking a break to regulate my blood sugar, I dip into the loose chocolates: chocolate-covered popcorn, a peanut cluster, various little chocolates shaped like baseballs, footballs, hearts, and smileys. All what you’d expect. The chocolate-covered caramels are all good, but the espresso caramel tastes like freshly brewed coffee and is hands down the best.
I’ve been dreading the giant pile of novelty gummies, maybe 40 or 50 of them, that are almost definitely not going to be good. I confirm this theory when I bite into a gummy shark, mini gummy shark, gummy frog, gummy pizza, gummy hot dog, gummy cupcake (with a surprise banana center—gag), gummy burger, sour gummy burger, gummy lobster, then a 4” gummy and a 6” gummy alligator, the latter of which is surprisingly the most flavorful of the bunch, even though I feel like a monster biting into its head.
The gummy teeth are exactly as gross as I thought they would be. But the 4” gummy fried egg? Not as gross as it looks.
The thing I’m most put off by in this collection is the 4” sour banana. If you said to me, “You can eat this real eyeball or this sour gummy banana,” I would take the eyeball. That’s how much I loathe banana. I bite in, and immediately spit it out. We’ve reached the “spitting out candy” phase of this experiment.
I’ve been looking forward to the sour candy, because those were my childhood favorites. The sour shoelaces are so good that I don’t even care I’m covered in that tart sugar stuff. The sour gummy worms: okay, but not that sour. A bright green apple tastes a little like sour apple and a little like a foot. The sour belts in strawberry and blue raspberry are gone too soon.
I stop when I get to the sour cola and sour cherry cola bottles. They are two of the worst things I have ever tasted. If sour Coke were a thing, Coke would have already invented and monetized it. It’s not meant to be.
The next batch is going to be fun—it’s all different gumballs. First: a Nerds gumball. It’s filled with Nerds and is delightful. Next: a sour strawberry that is filled with powder that is OH MY GOD SO SOUR. This has never happened to me before. I was the kid who ate the lemon Warheads on purpose and I still can’t handle this one.
The watermelon gumball is delicious. The blue gumball is—jackpot!—a Tootsie Roll. Yellow one is … OH SHIT. A JAWBREAKER. Why did I mix that into this bag? I intercept another two jawbreakers before I lose a tooth.
On to the traditional bubblegums. Airheads sour watermelon gum, delicious. Hubba Bubba blue raspberry sour bubble tape? Better in my memory.
Can we discuss Lucky Lights bubblegum cigarettes? They even have white paper with a brown filter on the end. So messed up. The candy cigarettes are just as gross. I remember puffing away on these as a kid and thinking it was so cool. Today, I’m shocked they still exist at all. (They’re formally referred to as “candy sticks” these days.)
Time to tackle the bag of black licorice. First one looks like a regular licorice bite. Pretty awful. The second one is bigger and softer but just as offensive. I try several more that taste the same; I’m starting to think they all taste like this until I get to a double salt black licorice. It is indescribably bad. I think this next one might be triple salt? It’s shaped like a coin and actually tastes like licking a nickel. Does anyone eat this for pleasure?
To erase this terrible moment, I start on the cool-looking vintage gums I’ve been saving. Choward’s Scented Gum says it has a “fragrance that refreshes after eating, smoking or drinking.” Honestly, I don’t know what you would have to smoke or drink to make this flavor an improvement. It kind of tastes like cinnamon and burnt wood. Beeman’s Chewing Gum is a little minty and overall pretty pleasant. Clove Chewing Gum is a heady mix of Christmas memories and bad decisions I made in college. Black Jack Chewing Gum is black licorice and absolutely nothing is sacred anymore.
I’ve done some wacky experiments for stories before—once I tried follow the Gilmore Girls diet, and once I went on a hike to find wild tarantulas on purpose—but this was, by far, my most outrageous life choice for journalism.
With a few exceptions, what I thought would be good was good, and what I thought would be gross was gross. I am so glad that I was able to try all of that old-fashioned candy, though, and to discover that some of it (with the notable exception of Black Jack) is actually great. Zagnut might just be my new favorite candy bar.
In fact, I would have been better off just buying the old-fashioned candies I was curious about and leaving all the rest behind. The lesson I learned is one that, if we’re being honest, I already knew: When you’re in New Hampshire’s version of a Wonka Factory, be a Charlie Bucket, not an Augustus Gloop.