My favorite thing about visiting my Aunt Tosca's Springfield, Massachusetts, house with my parents in the 1970s was the glass candy dish she kept on her coffee table. That dish was always filled with an assortment of hard candies: root beer barrels, red hots, butterscotches. I would discreetly dip my hand into it as the adults caught up on family matters. I've never lost my love for hard candies, those jewel-like confections that usually amount to little more than sugar, water, coloring, and corn syrup. The ingredients are cooked to a taffy-like consistency in a kettle, poured onto a cooling table, mixed with flavoring, then run into molds of all shapes and sizes. Thankfully, there are plenty of producers, from the old-fashioned to the new and artisanal, making great versions of hard candy these days—so many that I've been thinking of copying Aunt Tosca and getting a candy dish of my own.
1. PLYLEY'S These long-lasting hard candies date back to 1919, when Milo and Rilla Plyley first opened their candy store in LaGrange, Indiana. The individually wrapped cylinders still come in classic flavors such as butterscotch, sassafras, grape, and cream soda, but now the company is run by the Plyleys' great-grandson Jack. plyleyscandies.com
2. TORIE & HOWARD This Connecticut confectioner's pear-and-cinnamon-flavored candy tastes just like the real thing. It's made with organic sugar and rice syrup, and colors come courtesy of red cabbage, purple carrot, and black currant dyes. torieandhoward.com
3. A POCKET FULL OF SWEETS Barley water imparts a caramel hue to these star-shaped, burned-sugar-flavored sweets from Florida candymaker Doina Taylor. The taste is reminiscent of creme brulee. etsy.com/shop/APocketFullofSweets
4. GIAMBRI'S A delicious hard candy shell gives way to a creamy peanut butter filling in these addictive puffs from New Jersey's Giambri's Quality Sweets, founded in 1942. giambris.com
5. SCHIMPFF'S CONFECTIONERY At their family-owned Jeffersonville, Indiana, candy store, opened in 1891, Warren and Jill Schimpff use brass molds to churn out candy fish that represent the aquatic denizens of the Ohio River in mouth-pleasing flavors such as sweet birch and clove. schimpffs.com
6. PAPABUBBLE Artfully designed, hand-rolled sweets from this "candy laboratory," with locations worldwide, have tiny images—strawberries, hearts, flowers—rolled into their centers. Along with looking pretty, the candies put taste buds into overdrive with bold flavors ranging from salty licorice to watermelon with salt and chile. papabubbleny.com
7. BROOKLYN HARD CANDY Started by two sweet-toothed graduates of London's Cordon Bleu cooking school, these handcrafted pillow-shaped candies stand out with sophisticated fruity flavors that include tangy wild strawberry, Meyer lemon, and luscious Concord grape. brooklynhardcandy.com