Rocklea Road, a combination of chocolate, marshmallow, coconut and peanuts, was developed by Harry Lea as a gift for his wife Esther. It has survived the demise of Darrell Lea stores and changes of ownership which saw the company’s range slashed from 800 to 100 products. Although the most famous of Australia’s Rocky Road confections, it was not the first.
The origin of Rocky Road is unclear. There is a legend doing the rounds of the internet that it was first heard of in 1853 in Australia, when marshmallows and local nuts were added to chocolate damaged in transit from England. The name purportedly relates to the rocky roads the confection had to travel on its way to the goldfields.
I have not been able to find any early references to Rocky Road and find this story to be extremely unlikely. To begin with, marshmallows as a confection don’t begin to appear in Australian newspapers until the 1890s, with confectionery ranges more likely to include them in the early 1900s. Before this, references to marshmallow were as a medicinal substance extracted from the marshmallow plant, used as a poultice or included with liquorice in throat lozenges. No marshmallows, no Rocky Road.
The earliest references I can find to Rocky Road are in America. The Orchid Sweet Shop in Santa Cruz was advertising Rocky Road Creams in 1920 and after this a number of newspapers carried recipes for making Rocky Road at home. The early recipes included chocolate, marshmallow and walnuts. By 1937, Rocky Road candy was being advertised in Oregon and California for 33 cents a pound.
In America, Rocky Road is best known as an ice cream flavour. This was invented in Oakland, California, in 1929 and included almonds rather than walnuts. It was first served at an ice cream shop run by William Dreyer and Joseph Edy, but according to Oakland’s historic Fentons Creamery the idea came from Melvin Fenton, grandson of their founder.
Rocklea Road differs from the American Rocky Roads in that it contains coconut. Even then, Darrell Lea was not the first. “Rocky Roads” was advertised by Myer in Adelaide in 1933 as a “Delicious combination of Chocolate, Cocoanut and Marshmallow. Usually 2/- . At Myer’s 1/6d lb.” Perhaps the most we can credit Harry Lea with is perfecting the chocolate, coconut, marshmallow and peanut combination to create the most distinctive Australian version of this popular treat.