edible notables

Genoa's famous Candy Dance celebrates 100 years.


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Participants enjoy the delectable, handcrafted goods at Candy Dance 2018

Billie Jean Rightmire hasn’t been to every Candy Dance celebration. But the 86-year-old Genoa native and town historian probably has attended more than most. In fact, the fourth-generation Genoan can boast that her ancestors were at the very first one, a century ago, and family members have participated in every one since. Not a bad legacy. 

Bright idea

It all started in 1919, according to Rightmire, when residents decided that their small, quaint town needed a few electric streetlights. The dilemma that followed? How to pay for them. 

Lillian Virgin Finnegan proposed holding a dance as a fundraiser, followed by a midnight dinner. She also suggested making candy to give out at the event — to sweeten the deal, so to speak. 

That first dance yielded enough money to purchase and install 10 electric streetlights. But the next challenge was finding funds to pay the monthly electric bill. Well, why not hold another dance to fund a year’s worth of electricity? And so the Candy Dance became an annual event, and the rest is history.

web candydance2 lowParticipants enjoy the delectable, handcrafted goods at Candy Dance 2018

Bigger and better

The Arts & Crafts Faire was added in 1974, starting with 12 vendors. Today, the event hosts more than 300 vendors and spans two full days, always held the last full weekend in September. 

This addition has proven to be a windfall for the town, Rightmire says. So much so, in fact, that the Candy Dance Arts & Crafts Faire now funds two-thirds of the town’s budget. 

And, yes, candy still is a big part of the festivities. Each year, volunteers make about 4,000 pounds of Genoa’s famous handmade candy — which includes various kinds of brittles and taffies, divinity, penuche, and the all-time favorite, fudge — to be sold to the nearly 50,000 attendees who show up annually. 

The dinner and dance remain key features of the event, with a catered dinner (now served long before midnight) and a live band playing music in a wide range of styles.

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Participants enjoy the delectable, handcrafted goods at Candy Dance 2018

Paying homage

In August, in honor of the event’s centennial, the town erected a seven-foot bronze statue of Finnegan, the originator of the Candy Dance idea. Prominently placed in the center of town, the statue is dedicated to all the many town volunteers, over the past 100 years, who have made the event so successful. 

Fittingly, each night that statue is illuminated by one of the very streetlights that started the whole saga. According to Rightmire, nine of those 10 original lamps still burn brightly. 

Writer Barbara Twitchell has enjoyed the Candy Dance more than a few times. She likes it even more now knowing Finnegan, a suffragette, started the successful enterprise.

Genoa Candy Dance Art & Crafts Faire
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat. – Sun., Sept. 28 – Sept. 29

Candy Dance Dinner & Dance 
4 – 10 p.m. Sept. 28

For details, visit Genoanevada.org/candydancefaire.htm

Want to make some of Genoa’s famous Candy Dance confections at home? Try these recipes, adapted from the 1995 Genoa Candy Book.

web candydance3 lowresParticipants enjoy the delectable, handcrafted goods at Candy Dance 2018

Peanut Brittle
(courtesy of Billie J. Rightmire, Genoa town historian. Makes one large cookie sheet of candy, which can be broken into various-sized pieces)

2 cups white sugar
½ cup water
1 cup light Karo syrup
2 cups raw peanuts
1½ tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Boil sugar, water, and Karo syrup to 230 degrees F on candy thermometer. Add peanuts. Boil to 310 degrees F. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients. Pour on buttered cookie sheet. Cool. Once cooled, break into pieces and enjoy. 

Divine Divinity
(courtesy of Billie J. Rightmire, Genoa town historian. Makes 36 to 80 pieces, depending upon individual finished candy size)

½ cup water
2½ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup corn syrup
2 egg whites 
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine first four ingredients and cook almost to a hard boil (260 degrees F). Do not stir while cooking. Meanwhile, add vanilla to egg whites and beat until stiff. Add boiling sugar mixture to stiff egg whites in a very slow stream. Beat 4 to 5 minutes using electric mixer. 

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper, or pour onto a wax-paper-lined, rimmed cookie sheet (if candy is drying out, you can add 1 teaspoon of cold water and stir). When candy is cool, invert cookie sheet, remove wax liner, and cut candy into 36 large squares. 

Never Fail Fudge
(courtesy of Billie J. Rightmire, Genoa town historian. Makes 2 dozen pieces)

1 pound powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa
½ cup butter 
¼ cup milk 
½ cup chopped nuts 
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Mix sugar and cocoa together in 10-by-8-inch utility dish. Drop butter onto mixture in 4 to 5 pieces. Pour in milk. Microwave 2 or 3 minutes on high or until bubbly. Stir lightly. Add nuts and vanilla, and stir to thoroughly combine. Spread fudge evenly in dish. Refrigerate 1 hour. Cut into squares. 




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