Rocky road and some detours

"The best thing about rocky road is that you can add anything you like! From white chocolate bits to glacé cherries, you can go down any ‘road’ you choose!" Australia's Best Recipes

The above photograph is from the November Coles Magazine which had a feature on Rocky Road, that simplest of all sweets, and, something quintessentially Australian. And yes it is Australian I think. This version is Caramilk rocky road.


It was invented, so it is said in 1853 - which is very specific but nevertheless no particular person is named as being responsible for its invention. The cause is though - a technique devised to cover up the taste of spoiled confectionery that had made the long trip from Europe. It was just broken up, perhaps toasted and mixed with chocolate to hide the taste of the spoiled sweets. The name rocky road either referred to the long journey of the confectionery or the rocky road of travel to the goldfields.


And here is my first detour. That name. On the Science Ditction site I found this quote:


"If it were just the flavor that made Rocky Road so special, every company could have just made their own concoction of nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows, named it “Muddy Street” or “Pebble Lane,” and called it a day. But there’s a linguistic reason why Rocky Road just sounds so dang delicious—and it’s studied by linguists and marketers alike." Science Diction


And to illustrate this they had a short - and pretty interesting video on why certain sounds mean certain things:

It really was interesting, but it didn't really explain why "Rocky Road sounds so dang delicious." Very, very tantalising - even frustrating, which doesn't take away from the interest of the video. I think you have to make some sort of leap. Nevertheless I do think the name does indeed evoke crunchy - which would have to be the main aspect of rocky road confectionery. And really we don't know why anyone chose the name.


The Americans, of course, also claim to have invented rocky road, although when you look into it they don't really. They claim to have been the first to make rocky road ice cream - which is apparently very big in America - they even have a day dedicated to it.


"a symbol of the modern indulgence made possible by refrigeration technology." Alissa Greenberg - Quartz


Here in Australia, we are more into rocky road itself I think, although of course there is rocky road ice cream - which to my mind mostly looks pretty revolting.


There are so many recipes for rocky road on the net. Taste.com has 182 on its site and Coles alone has seven including the caramilk version: Retro Aussie rocky road; Tropical white chocolate rocky road; Lamington rocky road; Christmas rocky road and Choc favourites rocky road

Or you can go a bit posh and/or modern innovative with three from Donna Hay: Candied clementine and smoked almond rocky road; Gingerbread liquorice and pretzel rocky road; Raspberry and rose petal rocky road plus Ottolenghi's Salted coffee, pecan and lime rocky road; Moroccan rocky road from SBS and Almonds, goji berries and strawberries from Gourmet Traveller. And if you look there are many other such innovations.

All of which should give you some ideas for those little hampers of goodies for the kids for Christmas. I did some foodie hampers for mine last year and apparently they were a hit. I have a request for more of the same this year, so maybe I'll give rocky road a go. One grandson likes gingerbread, so maybe the Donna Hay gingerbread version would be a good one to try.


I was in Aldi this morning, which, of course, is full of Christmas fare, including some Darrell Lea Rocklea Road chocolate bars. So when I started on this I thought I would have a look at Darrell Lea - such an iconic Australian company and their rocky road products. And its actually a little sad, but also a little hopeful.


In 1888 the Lea family landed in Australia from England. Son Harry, seen here in his wedding photograph began making toffees and hard candy in Manly in 1917. In 1927 his son Darrell was born, and when in 1934 the older sons Maurice and Monty went to register the company name as Levy Brothers (was their real surname Levy?) they were advised by the registering clerk that that was boring and why not name it after Darrell. And so came into being the company name. In 1935 - just a year later the first Rocklea Road bar was made with toasted marshmallows, roasted peanuts and milk chocolate. It's a neat little twist on rocky road for the name. The 'original recipe' is still made today.


In the years that followed the company expanded - opened stores and brought out other 'classics' - Batch 37 liquorice, coconut ice, and caramel snows to name just a few, and they began selling their products in other stores and also overseas.


However, on the website in the upbeat story of Darrell Lea you will find no reference to the fact that in 2012 the company collapsed and went into Administration. Eventually the company was sold for around $25 million to the Quinn family who took it on. All of their stores were closed down and hundreds of jobs were lost, although the manufacture of the products continued. Even today there are only three actual company shopfronts in the whole country. However the company under the Quinns continued to innovate, and become successful again, so much so that in 2018 they sold for $200 million, to private equity company Quadrant , who now owns it.


And I have to say they seem to be making a comeback by building on the heritage whilst at the same time developing new products like a dark chocolate liquorice stout in collaboration with Nomad brewing, and also the Batch 37 liquorice ice cream. Indeed the Batch 37 liquorice seems to be the big thing. There was lots of it in Aldi.

The new company also seems to be environmentally aware, by committing in 2018 to sustainably grown cocoa, and in 2020 committing to no palm oil in their products. The packaging is clever - sort of retro and modern all at the same time.


A silly, simple thing - rocky road. And indeed it proved to be a rocky road for the Lea family. I don't know under whose leadership they foundered - was it Darell, too old I think, or one of his children? or what has become of them.


But it's Christmas and a good time to get in the kitchen with your children or grandchildren and make a messy batch of sweetness from everyone's favourite things - all bound together with chocolate.


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