Category Archives: 20th century candy

Art Candy: From Candy Bowls to Christmas Candy

art-candyWhen I think of candy and the idea of giving, I think of the candy bowls grandmothers of a certain generation left out for their children and grandchildren. These women grew up during the Depression and wars when sugar shortages were common and sweets hard to find. Once sugar was available they filled their bowls to the brim with brightly colored sweets, as ornamental as delicious. It’s no surprise some of these candies became standard Christmas fare, such as the art candy, ribbon candy, and candy straws.

Of all these candies, the art candy is the most impressive, in my opinion, with images of flowers and fruits engraved in the sugar base. It’s funny to think that the art candy started at beach-side getaways in England in the late 1800s. The resorts would roll their image and name into the center of the candy and people would buy bags of them as souvenirs. Whether for the winter holidays or summer getaways, though, the art candy is a symbol of love and fun.

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Sweets Under Seige: Revolutionary War

Dan in Uniform

Here’s a picture of my handsome husband over there in Afghanistan. The USO gives a little levity to folks like him with shows and, yes, candy, upholding a tradition that started with the Revolutionary War. I send Dan chocolate covered espresso and bourbon balls among the books and aspirins.  My packages are always followed by an e-mail that exclaims: Got IT!  Then a blow-by-blow of what he ate first.

So, why not explore what the troops have enjoyed since way back when starting with the Revolutionary War. The soldiers back then had an unpredictable assortment of food, sometimes nothing, sometimes mouse-nibbled, bug-infested johnny cakes, and sometimes chocolate.

You might imagine that the chocolate was bitter, grainy, and terrible, and I have no doubt  that some of it was, but European Americans of the day enjoyed sugar (grown and processed by enslaved workers in various parts of the world) and spices such as cinnamon (compliments of the Spice Trade). In other words, taste-wise it could take on a Hershey Bar on the battlefield or off.

FYI: In Europe, the cost of the cacao was prohibitive so the well-to-do had to suffice with drinking chocolate. But in North America chocolate was more readily available. Drinking chocolate was still the norm, but eating chocolate was on-the-scene and considered good for health and vitality, as many say today.

In fact, Bakers Chocolate of Boston was already advertising by 1770. Their most famous advertising campaign, concocted in the 1800s, was based on the painting  La Belle Chocolatière or “The Chocolate Girl,” by French artist Jean- Étienne Liotard  in the 1740s. Today, you can find a tasty example of chocolate from 1750, made by  American Heritage – a small division of Mars.

baker's chcolate

Baker’s Girl Based on 1700’s painting

 

 

 

How the Chewing Gum Saved Baby Food and Possibly Ham

Bartlett Arkell was born into a prominent family in 1862. His father was a publisher and state senator, and Arkell carried on the tradition as an editor for 11 years. He left to co-found The Imperial Packing Co, which produced packaging for hams, bacon and lard. No doubt he had help from his friend and mentor, bacon baron Arthur Armour.

Soon Arkell became company president, and under his direction the company excelled. After a friend said the name “Imperial” was ill-suited for an American ham, he changed it to Beech-Nut conjuring images of the American tree and the smoky flavor of his hams. He pioneered the use of glass and vacuum-packed containers and branched the company into everything from peanut butter to soup. Around 1910, Arkell’s brother-in-law, whose own brother helped start the American Chicle Company, suggested that Beech-Nut enter the chewing gum arena. So, they did.

As a person, Arkell was a devote patron of the arts, active supporter of the Canajoharie, New York community where he lived, and a great employer, giving his turn-of-century employees health benefits, pensions, and bonuses. And, like all success in the chewing gum world, Arkell was also a stealth marketer. Among his stints, he hired a traveling circus to showcase his candy and gum and created the personas of the convincingly attractive “Beech-Nut Girls”.

Earhart on the Beech-Nut Plane

Earhart on the Beech-Nut Plane

But the pièce de résistance was when he contracted Amelia Earhart to fly a plane brandishing the Beech-Nut name from New Jersey to Oakland and back. With funding made possible from the publicity from this flight, and additional support from Beech-Nut, Earhart was able to fly from New York to Europe in 1932 and Hawaii to California in 1935 and embark on the around-the-world flight in 1937 that was her end.

Eventually, Beech-Nut became one of the three biggest gum companies in the nation, along with the American Chicle Company and Wrigley’s Gum. During the Depression, when Beech-Nut’s food profits faltered, the chewing gum kept them alive, accounting for $11 of the $18 million in profits that year. In 1931 they introduced strained baby food which they are most known for today.

Bartlett Arkell  Photo: The Arkell Museum

Bartlett Arkell
                                Photo: The Arkell Museum

The Quick Clean Story of Dentyne

This familiar gum was invented by pharmacist. Franklin V.Canning in New York in 1899. The name stood for “Dental Hygiene” and Canning was the first, since the Aztecs, anyway, to position gum as a breath freshener. Canning’s tagline was: “To prevent decay, To sweeten the breath, To keep teeth white.” “Taste the tingle” is new – demonstrates the transition of gum from something that is purposeful to something that creates an experience.

"Classic" Dentyne

“Classic” Dentyne

The Story of the Peppermint Pattie (via the ice cream cone plus Junior Mints and a quick peek at the John Birch Society)

Traveling through Pennsylvania in March

Traveling through Pennsylvania in March

I’ve been traveling around the country, north and south, on my endless search for historic candy. To the north, I went to farmland in Pennsylvania where I passed the most astonishing vistas of farmhouses and fields…just stunning.

A while back, I was in that same area where I found a group of women baking in a Mennonite farm/bakery. I asked if they knew anything about sauerkraut candy: it originated in Germany and is made with actual sauerkraut.  They didn’t – and thought the whole idea was pretty funny. Would they be willing to try a batch? I had the original recipe. They thought that was even funnier. This time, the long winter was still causing the area to shudder with cold – no bakeries, candy shops, small farms with traditional treats. All I could find was the town of York – home to none other than the York Peppermint Pattie.

I also went to the outer banks of North Carolina where I had much better luck finding traditional candy – more about that later. One fabulous seafood place with to-die-for fried okra had but one candy for sale which was the…York Peppermint Pattie! Coincidence? Or was Henry C. Kessler, who invented the Peppermint Pattie, reaching through the heavens where he surely rests to request that I tell the story. So here goes:

The Story of the Peppermint Pattie (via the ice cream cone plus Junior Mints and a quick peek at the John Birch Society):

Henry C. Kessler opened the York Cone Company in the 1920s. Ice Cream Cones were relatively new in the U.S., although their origins go back to the 1700s in Europe. When exactly the ice cream cone made its debut in the U.S. isn’t entirely clear, but it was certainly broadcast at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and became a classic American treat thereafter. Henry Kessler joined in, adding confections to his list of offerings.

At that time, chocolate covered caramels, bonbons, and others along that line were old hat: suitors had been giving their intendeds chocolates for decades. But the chocolate covered peppermint was substandard: the peppermint was soft and gummy. According to Mike Argento of the York Daily Record, in 1940 Kessler figured out a way to make the center crisp, firm and delicious. He named the new creation the “York Peppermint Pattie”. Soon, Kessler was selling the treat throughout the Northeast, Florida, and places in-between. In fact, the Pattie became so popular Kessler gave up his ice cream cone business and focused exclusively on that.

But Kessler was not alone. Plenty of candy companies jumped onto the Peppermint Pattie bandwagon, including James O. Welch. In 1949, in Cambridge Mass, he developed a smaller version of the iconic sweet called the Junior Miss. Welch was no light-weight in the candy world: a native of North Carolina, he started his company in 1927 and went on to manufacture such iconic candies as the Milk Duds, Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies, according to the Cambridge Historical Society. His brother, Robert, started his own company called the Oxford Candy Company. After it went belly up in the Depression, Robert joined his brother only to leave in 1956 and co-found the John Birch Society.

As for the Junior Mints: the candy was named for Junior Miss a popular book written by Sally Benson in the1940s. It was serialized in the New Yorker and went on to become a Broadway hit and Shirley Temple radio production. The Junior Mints, which were small enough to navigate in the dark, became a movie theater favorite.

Still glamorous, today.

Still glamorous, today.

The Junior Miss stayed in the family…more or less. Welch’s company was bought out by Nabisco in 1963 where Welch remained director until 1978. His son, who had joined his father’s business after completing Harvard and serving in the Navy, became president and chief operating officer of Nabisco Inc. In 1981, that company merged with R.J. Reynolds Industries, to form Nabisco Brands, Inc. Welch Junior became president of the parent company, according to an AP newswire announcement at the time. Today, current owner Tootsie Roll Industries, produces more than 15 million Junior Mints a day in Cambridge.

And Kessler’s York Peppermint Pattie? After a number of corporate owners, it is now manufactured by Hershey in Mexico.