Category Archives: Candy History

Fabulous Fandango

Roller Coaster Candy and the Fun Factor

When you go to an amusement park, you may notice that there are two types of roller coaster riders: one has hands flung in the air, faces broad with animated expressions, plenty of laughter, and plenty of screaming. Fun screaming. The other is white-knuckled, fingers so tightly wrapped around the bars, you’d think they’d make an imprint. Their eyes are closed – rigor mortis seems to have set in.

Same is true with candy. When the fun-loving visitors come into the True Treats shop, they are excited about the variety, the color and the stories. When they get to the retro-ish stuff, they practically swoon with memories of their childhoods, their grandparents, their vacations and on and on. They ferret out the most unusual candies or the ones with the highest degree of memory per bite.

As for the white-knuckled contingent – they walked hesitantly around the shop with cautious interest. If they have kids, the kids can pick one candy only. For the kids, this is not a fun decision. The parents watch with stern consternation, as if enabling them to view sexy pictures. Not quite porn but not exactly appropriate. Some kids get nothing. They insult my staff – and think nothing of it: they would never eat our candy, never have candy at home. Candy, they inform us, will kill you.

OK, so we know candy won’t kill you. And, we know people don’t eat enough to ruin their health. They just don’t. But candy is about fun and Americans have a trouble with fun. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans work 8.8 hours a day, in aggregate per week, more than any other activity, even sleep. Of that amount, only 30% are engaged or inspired at work whereas, yes, 70% dislike their jobs. On weekends they shop, mow the lawn, clean the house, not exactly work but not exactly fun. As for vacation, more than a quarter of Americans take no vacation time, and of those who do, the average is four days a year. As for those four days – 61% actually do some work. As for fun? Huh?

Now – more about candy. Poor lonely, misunderstood candy. The multi-billion dollar pleasure food accounts for roughly 5% of the sugar and roughly 3% of calories Americans consume today. We know how to eat it. A little per day. Maybe a few pieces per week. It’s a gift, a reward, a bit of fun. Which isn’t…well, us. My view: get your fingers off the bar America!! Enjoy the damn things. It won’t kill you. It might even help.

Want to try a sampling of retro candy? Might we suggest:

Fabulous Fandango

Caramels

Chocolate Covered Caramel Bourbons

Sources:

https://www.bls.gov/tus/charts/

http://www.today.com/money/americans-hate-their-jobs-even-perks-dont-help-6C10423977

http://www.gallup.com/services/178514/state-american-workplace.aspx

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/by-the-numbers-the-american-vacation/

The Not Dumb Dum Dum

The Dum Dums lollipop was first made in 1924 by the Akron Candy Company. According to manufacturer Spangler, who purchased the company in 1953, they produce12 million Dum Dums per day and about 2.4 billion Dum Dums each year.

The reason for its success goes back to the 20’s with I.C. Bahr, a company sales manager. At that time, marketing was no longer a tacky sales pitch. It was all about strategy, demographics, and imagination. Marketing had risen to a heyday which, to be frank, has yet to end. Good salesmen knew that the candy’s name could be translated into dollars, and no one knew more that Bahr. He named the lollipop “Dum Dums” knowing that kids could remember the names and ask their parents to buy some.

Today, more Dum Dums are given away than any other sweet. Not so dumb the Dum Dum.

Don’t like the Dum Dums you’re eating? Try another, any other.

Dum Dums started out with seven flavors: lemon, lime, orange, coconut-pineapple, cherry, grape, and butterscotch.   Over the years, flavors came and went. Chocolate, for example, was in in 1955 and out five years later. In 2000, the company added Buttered Popcorn, but was “sent on vacation” a year later which indicates to me it might return. Today, the flavors include a caveat for creative license, aptly called the Mystery Flavor™, and these:

  • Blueberry
  • Blu Raspberry
  • Bubble Gum
  • Butterscotch
  • Cherry
  • Cotton Candy
  • Cream Soda
  • Fruit Punch
  • Grape
  • Lemon Lime
  • Orange
  • Peach-Mango
  • Root Beer
  • Sour Apple
  • Strawberry

Lest you think the manufacturer has slacked off in their marketing acumen, forget it. The newest invocations: Dum Dums Crafts. Yes, you can make Dum Dums topiaries, Dum Dums infused wreaths, Dum Dums Sparkling Drinks, and my favorite: the Dum Dums Candy Flower in Dirt. Oh, and more. Did I forget to say that? Here you go: http://www.dumdumpops.com/crafting.

 

Source:

Susan Benjamin Sweet as Sin, (Prometheus, 2016)

http://www.dumdumpops.com/about-us

The Secret Life of the Pixy Stix (Plus Kool-Aid)

The Pixy Stix, beyond any other candy, is a lesson in “don’t stop ‘til” you get it right. The ubiquitous Pixy Stix sugar-esq powder started out as a drink mix in 1930, along the lines of Kool Aid, made two years earlier.

Not to digress, but the guy who made Kool-Aid, Edwin Perkins, actually experimented in his mother’s kitchen. Apparently, the drink started as a liquid. According to the Hastings Museum in Perkin’s home town of Hastings, Nebraska: “One of the products Perkins found success with was Fruit Smack. It came in came in six delicious flavors and the four-ounce bottle made enough for a family to enjoy at an affordable price.”

The drink was too cumbersome to ship, a serious problem since Perkins was selling it mail order. So, he figured out how to evaporate the liquid into a mouth smacking powder called Kool-Ade, later to be renamed “Kool-Aid.” A few decades later and it became Nebraska’s state drink.

Back to the Pixy Stix. Unlike its successful processor, the Pixy Stix started as a drink mix then called Frutola. Kids may have enjoyed a cool glass of Kool-Aid but they were happier eating the Frutola. So inventor J. Fish Smith seized the opportunity and turned the drink into a candy which he sold in little cups to be eaten with a spoon. It wasn’t exactly a success until 1950 when Sunline, Inc. purchased the powder, and combing the powers of eating and drinking, sold it in a straw. Success!

Actually, almost success. By 1963, rumor has it, the mothers of this nation had had it. The kids loved the Pixy Stix, but what a mess! They petitioned the candy maker, demanding a neater, cleaner version. The result was the SweeTart. A year later, happy customers bought $8 million dollars of the fizzy tablets.

 

SweeTart Scandal: The original SweeTart, a maker of glazed and candied fruit, opened in Oregon in 1927.  They sued Sunline for the name years later, but lost. The previous patent, it turns out, was invalid due to lack of use.

 

Abolitionists, Resistance, and the Nation’s First Candy – Part 1

Mrs. Spencer: The Nation’s First Candy Store and Abolitionist

Salem, Massachuesetts - Home of our Nation's 1st Candy

Map of Salem 1820

The fascinating and revealing story of the nation’s first candy begins in 1800 when Mrs. Mary Spencer and her son Thomas were shipwrecked in Salem, Massachusetts, after sailing over from England. As you can imagine, Mary Spencer was destitute, having lost everything she owned in the wreck. The town’s women felt bad for her, and learning she was an excellent cook, raised money to buy her a barrel of sugar.  Cane sugar was expensive at that time, and women didn’t have the means to make money. It’s likely they had to raise the funds through church functions and other means.

Gilbrater - sugar confection created by Mary Spencer

Gibralters

With the sugar, Mary Spencer made what she called the “Gibraltar,” the British name for a family of confections. The ingredients—cream of tartar, sugar, lemon or peppermint flavoring, and corn starch—were standard in many sweets and medicines, and similar to an after-dinner mint. She sold the candy from a pail on the steps of the First Church in Salem.

It’s important to remember that at that time women couldn’t vote, rarely owned property, and certainly weren’t entrepreneurs. Regardless, Mary Spencer took the money from her candy and bought a horse and buggy which she used to travel from town to town selling the Gibraltar. She was so successful that, in 1806, she bought a house on Buffum Street in Salem. She lived on the second floor of the house and opened the first candy store on the ground floor. There she sold the nation’s first commercial candy – the Gibralter.

Mrs. Spencer’s success was partly due to her shop’s seaside location and the steady flow of seafaring customers: in war time, sailors and seamen; in peacetime, seamen, traders, merchants, and pirates. The Gibraltar was sturdy enough to withstand humidity from the sea and was cut and wrapped in triangular pieces that easily fit in small spaces on board, where it was carried to China, the Far East, Africa, and the East Indies. But something else was at hand.

As Mary Spencer went from town to town selling the nation’s first commercial candy, she secretly transported escaped slaves who hid in a false bottom beneath her seat. As for her son Thomas: he was a soap box abolitionist, who challenged passers-by to join the resistance movement.

When Mary Spencer died around 1828, Thomas put her body in an easily transportable cooper coffin. After running the company for a few years, he returned to England, where a large sum of money and possibly a title, awaited him. He buried his mother there. George Pepper bought the business from Thomas Spencer and his employee, George Berkinshaw, bought it from him. The Berkinshaw family still owns it today. As for the buggy: it’s housed in the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Jonathan Walker, a sea captain from Maine, was caught transporting escaped slaves to freedom in the Bahamas. He was arrested, imprisoned and branded with the letter “S.S.” on his hand which stood for slave stealer.”

…Stay tuned for Part II

Norbert Rillieux: All the Sugar that You Eat and a Bizarre Twist

norbert-rillieux

Norbert Rillieux (undated)
Fun (and Informational) Candy Facts

  • Americans get a small amount (about 5%) of their sugar from candy! Most sugar comes from hidden places, from frozen pizza to granola bars.
  • Through most of history, food had a purpose – it was healthy, a medicine, or used in ceremonies. No junk food!
  • Early sugar in North America came from roots, barks, fruits, and grains, including corn!
  • Most Americans eat sugar from a beet – 55%! – and not the sugar cane. What’s the difference? It’s hard to tell!
  • The abolitionists thought they could get rid of slavery by “boycotting” the cane sugar, which was important to the economy of slavery. They used other sugars instead – the beet was one of them.
  • In the 1800s, most of the candies were made in pharmacies.

If you like sweets, eat sweets, or give gifts of made sugar, you have Norbert Rillieux to thank. His story is remarkable and his legacy regarding cane sugar in specific and sugar in general is profound.  He was born in 1806; his mother was a free woman of color, and his father, Vincent Rillieux, a European American plantation owner and inventor. At that time, 25 percent of African Americans in New Orleans were free and mixed couples often raised families together.

Rillieux was a precocious student – so precocious his father sent him to the famous l’École Centrale in Paris where he studied engineering. At twenty-four, he became the youngest instructor of applied mechanics and later, back home, developing a multiple effect steam-operated evaporator that turned raw sugar into sugar crystals.

evaporator

Rillieux’s Evaporator System

At the time, sugarcane production relied on something called the “Jamaica Train”: a process where slaves ladled scorching sugarcane juice from one boiling container to another. Frequently, these workers were scalded to death or endured debilitating burns. Then came Rillieux’s system, where the evaporator did the work, saving lives, enhancing the quality of sugar and expediting the timing of the sugar evaporating process.

In short, it was of the same magnitude as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. And here is the bazaar twist: Rillieux became the most sought-after engineer in Louisiana: evaporator was embraced by widely by such persons as the Confederate secretary of war, Judah Benjamin. Yet, as a “person of color,” he couldn’t sleep at the plantation as a guest or, in some cases, even dine there. As the Civil War drew near, Rillieux faced an increasing number of restrictions, such as the loss of his right to walk along the street. So, Rillieux moved back to France where he died in 1894 and was buried in the famed Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise.

degas

Degas, Suffering City of New Orleans

Eligh Whitney has made his way into the annals of history. Norbert Rillieux is forgotten.  But, an interesting footnote is this: In 1872, French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas was suffering from a bout of artist’s block. So, he decided to visit the home of American relatives in New Orleans. Louisiana, still recovering from the devastation of the Civil War, somehow inspired Degas and fueled some of his finest paintings. The home had belonged to Vincent Rillieux, Senior.  His son, Vincent, Jr, was Norbert’s father. Degas and Norbert Rillieux were cousins.

Source:

Author’s Book “Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Favorite Pleasure.” (Prometheus, 2016)

“I have always held that Rillieux’s invention is the greatest in the history of American chemical engineering and I know of no other invention that has brought so great a saving to all branches of chemical engineering.”

— Charles A. Browne (1870-1947), Sugar Chemist, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Candy in the Classroom?

Civil War Candy HistoryYesterday, I gave a talk at the D.G. Cooley Elementary School in Berryville, Virginia, about the history of candy with plenty of samples as we went. Skeptics, such as health professionals or parents who fastidiously limit their children’s intake of sugar, may cringe. Candy? In the classroom? Seriously? No worries – I’m on their side.

But first, a little background. Candy is uniquely qualified for teaching children. They can relate to it directly – it’s not abstract, difficult, or about grown-up achievements. It’s about something in their realm and so, about them, complete with positive associations of candy bags at birthday parties and salt water taffy on family vacations. Just as important, candy gives them a visceral learning experience that touches all their senses- they see, smell, taste, touch, and even hear the sound of candy crunching.

The best part of candy in the classroom, though, is the multi-faceted education that the young students literally consume. The early history of our nation, for example, is interwoven with cane sugar, the primary reason for slavery and a central component of the American Revolution. The stories through time are fascinating and the experience immediate: the children taste the chocolate Thomas Jefferson and John Adams ate, the candy bars the World War I soldiers relied on for health and nourishment, and the 10th century medicine used in Arabic apothecaries, now known as the Turkish Delight.

Other lessons relate to the Industrial Revolution and what it reveals about the foods we eat. Students sample the licorice root – yes, a real root – then travel through time to the licorice and the red twist. They try the cacao bean then the industrialized milk chocolate. They discover that all through history people ate what came from the ground and tree as well as the fish, birds, and livestock that lived. Today our experience of food frequently begins in the supermarket, with a range of ingredients, revealed on the all-important label. In the process, they also learn about marketing from branding to market-driven ingredients in such favorites as the Pixy Stix, which has colors and smells specially added to the actual ingredients to enhance the eating experience.

And those lessons are only the beginning! No matter what the content, though, the children leave better informed and more able to make wise decisions about the foods they love. All this in an hour or so of fun.

If you’re a teacher and want to know more about True Treats’ programs, please contact us. If you want to use candy in the classroom yourself, feel free to call or e-mail us for advice.

20170221_152333 20170221_152351 20170221_152554 20170221_153712 20170221_155908

The Charleston Chew

james-johnson

James P. Johnson

The Charleston Chew, that dense chocolate covered marshmallow-taffy-toffee substance may be nostalgic, but beneath the chocolate exterior, is an edgy, activist DNA embedded in the candy which, as it happened, was named for the song and the dance known as the “Charleston” in 1925.

Let’s start with the dance. No one knows where it originated exactly, but it likely was in the domain of enslaved African-Americans living on a small island near Charleston, South Carolina. Their dance likely had Ash-Ante African roots, modified to deceive the slaveholders and their rules prohibiting it. You have to remember that both song and dance were a powerful means to resist the slaveholders’ grip on those who were enslaved. They could communicate information about food resources, escape plans, and other matters central to their existence as well as maintain a spiritual and generational connection to their pasts.

Snap forward 1894 and the great African American musician and composer James P. Johnson was born. Classically trained, he went on to bridge the gap between ragtime and jazz, as back-up player for such greats as Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith, mentor to Duke Ellington and  Fats Waller, among many others, and an accompanist on over 400 recordings, and colleague of George Gershwin. As ground-breaking as he was, Johnson’s role as resistor also played out in the classical music landscape, where he was intent on breaking barriers with compositions that reflected African beats.  He succeeded.

One of his most enduring compositions, was the song, the Charleston, likely written in 1913. The popularity snowballed a 1920s hit. The flappers adopted the song and the dance, where it was featured in images of speakeasies with overflowing and deliciously illegal cocktails. The Charleston came to represent female liberation, irrant behavior and flight from the Victorian-esq norms.

It was during the wild times that Donley Cross, an actor in San Francisco, ended his career by falling from stage and injuring his back. With no back-up profession and for unknown reasons, he went into candy-making, instead.  In 1925, his most famous hit the market and the name tapped into the spirit of defiance and resistance, both crazed and serious.  And that was, of course, the Charleston Chew.

Sources:

http://redhotjazz.com/jpjohnson.html

http://blackhistorynow.com/james-p-johnson/