Category Archives: chocolate history

The Almost-Astonishing Story of Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy: From Ice Cream Cones to a Retro Candy Favorite

York Peppermint PattiesI’ve been thinking about peppermint patties these days, although I’m not sure why. Maybe because peppermint and chocolate, individually or combined, is big on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…face it, there’s always a holiday nearby where candy is concerned and chocolate covered peppermints are standard fare.

Chocolate Covered Peppermint Candy: The Retro Candy Version Cometh

york-peppermint-pattie-receiptThe year was 1940. 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 languished… the peppermint was soft and gummy and the candy overall substandard. But Pennsylvania native and ice cream cone maker Henry C. Kessler changed all that. 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.

As luck and business norms would have it, other companies jumped on 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.

Junior Mints - Miniture Chocolate Coated Peppermint CandyAs 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.

Today, current owner Tootsie Roll Industries produces more than 15 million Junior Mints a day in Cambridge. As for Kessler’s York Peppermint Pattie? After a number of corporate owners, it is now manufactured by Hershey in Mexico.

What to Taste:

Chocolate Candy: An Aphrodisiac – Is It or Isn’t It?

Cacao BeansIs chocolate an aphrodisiac? The answer is yes. And no. And like so much about sex and lust, somewhere in-between. Here’s what happened: when 16th century explorers, such as Hernán Cortés, landed in Mesoamerica they come across a mesmerizing sight: the great Aztec leader Montezuma, bedecked in jewels and feathers, and attended to by 200 wives. And in his regal hand he cupped a golden chalice filled with the cacao drink.

Montezuma inspired Cortés, largely to overthrow him, which he did with a devastating, bloody blow. The cacaMayan People and Chocolateo also inspired the creative talents of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who traveled with Cortés and recorded their journey many years later in The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. His accuracy is unknown, but the spirit of his account is impressive. It was from Castillo that we learned the improbable truth that each day Montezuma drank fifty servings of chocolate from a golden chalice, which gave him the virility to satisfy the sexual desires of his many wives.

Accuracy aside, the cacao became known as a prized food fueling and enabling sexual desire first in Spain, where the Spanish kept the cacao a much coveted secret, and later Europe where the cacao traveled from one royal marriage to another and, eventually, North America and the world.

But is Chocolate an Aphrodisiac?

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Here’s the “no.” Chocolate does contain phenyl ethylamine, which can activate a feeling of giddy warmth, and it does contain serotonin, which can excite the senses. Unfortunately, neither chemical is present in significant amounts.

No worries. Here’s the “yes”: Sex is in the mind, as everyone from the makers of Victoria’s Secret to men’s magazines are fully aware. And chocolate is one of the most powerful mind-aphrodisiacs in history. Truffles, starting in the turn-of-the-century, for example, were the gift of courtship, i.e. sexual intrigue. Chocolatiers created voluptuous chocolates whose rose patterns were so much like the vulva even a gynecologist would be fooled. Today, chocolate as a gift of love and lust has no rivals.

All this, thanks to Montezuma. In spite of his fall at the feet of the conquering Spanish, Montezuma, in spirit and in legend, lives on.

What to Taste:

Cacao NibsCacao Beans

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.