Tag Archives: Candy History

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

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

Philly

Historic Philly Sign

Historic Philly Sign

I just gave a talk about the history of candy at the Historical Society in Philadelphia. The most amazing aspect of the “City of Brotherly Love,” more than the architecture, the ports, or the gardens, is the people. Sitting curbside at a Cuban restaurant afterwards, I watched the parade of humanity go by: Muslim women with hijabs, Latino families with dark-eyed children, a Vietnamese cook in chief’s whites, European American students chatting at a nearby café, and two African American workers with key-laden rings at their hips.

Philadelphia Talk & Tasting by Susan Benjamin

Philly Girls

As for candy – for most people, candy is a metaphor, a metaphor based on the experience of love. For generations, grandmothers have fished sweets from their purses for eager grandchildren; lovers have shared chocolates in ribbon-wrapped boxes; and on occasion children have given candy to their teachers, bosses to their secretaries, and friends to each other. They are the stuff of birthday parties and weddings: they are us.

Philadelphia Cuban Restaurant

Philadelphia Cuban Restaurant

You could also say that our diversity is a metaphor for sweets, but it’s more literal than that. Chocolate originated in Mesoamerica and was eaten by Native Americans, long prepared with sugar from India and spices from Asia, or as a coating on Mediterranean almonds, British raisins, and North African coffee beans, first consumed by Muslim men. The hard candies were European and jellies from the ancient Arabic Apothecaries.  The brittle came with the Irish fleeing starvation, while the peanut traveled from Argentina to Africa then back on slave ships whose struggling inhabitants produced the sugar with the strength of survivors, which they were.

We owe them, all of them, gratitude. They are the sea of inhabitants in Philadelphia, new arrivals and countless generations. That’s it. Love. Brotherly, sisterly and for all time.

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.

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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/

Black History Museum Talk & Tasting

black-history-museumLast Saturday, I had the pleasure, and I do mean pleasure, of speaking at the Black History Museum in Alexandria. The museum was formally a one-room library for African Americans during segregation. Since then, the site has expanded and now features a presentation and exhibition area.

I don’t know what I liked best. The museum itself is beautiful, clean, bright and airy. And while African American history is too large to fit into the New York City library, the small museum presents just the right information to make the trip warm and informative.

before-the-spiritsThe exhibition on the day I gave my talk was called “Before the Spirits are Swept Away: African American Historic Site Paintings” by Sherry Z. Sanabria . I’ve seen Sanabria’s work else –portraits of captivity expressed though abandoned slave quarters, mental hospitals, concentration camps and prisons. The images are disturbing, revealing and beautiful at the same time.

audrey-davisThe best part for me as a speaker, though, was undoubtedly the people: Audrey Davis, the curator, the staff, and the guests. All of them were friendly, smart and quick to engage in interesting conversations.  The talk lasted longer than scheduled but no one, especially me, seemed to mind.

In Virginia? Skip Trip Advisor and Head Here

Ready to sell tickets at the Rising Sun Tavern

Ready to sell tickets at the Rising Sun Tavern

I’ve been traveling around the country quite a bit these days and am always delighted to be hitting the road in Virginia. Last weekend, I found myself speaking in two beautifully historic places: Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. My recommendation: visit both (they’re only 90 minutes apart), spend time walking around the historic area, enjoy the wonderful stores, then head over to the Rising Sun Tavern and the Albemarle County Historical Society.

The Ultimate Deck at Rising Sun Tavern

The Ultimate Deck at Rising Sun Tavern

Rising Sun Tavern: Fredericksburg, VA

This former tavern was originally built in 1760 as a home for Charles Washington, George’s younger brother. About 30 years later, it became a tavern and popular gathering place for travelers. The interior has a cool, 18th century feel, with warm woodwork and well-preserved artifacts that express the time-period beautifully. Happy as I was to give the talk, I wanted to spend time just looking at the furniture, glassware and much more. Of course, from my perspective, there’s nothing like telling visitors about 18th century chocolate, sugar and other “sweets” in a space where it was likely eaten. As for the deck: so vast and comfortable you might want to relax for a few hours…too bad they don’t carry the original liquid refreshment! Before you head out, check the hours as the Tavern offers tours, staff dressed in period garb.

Albemarle County Historical Society

Albemarle County Historical Society

Albemarle County Historical Society: Charlottesville

So, here’s what you do: go for a stroll in the area around the Historical Society building, go out for lunch, and do a little shopping. But…before you do, find out what events are on tap that day. The Historical Society has walking tours and exhibits, all tastefully and professionally done and hosted by a welcoming staff.  At my talk, the audience felt welcome by their hosts, as did I – we had lots of laughs and great discussions.They even tried some of the really early candies I gave them without hesitation. In case you’re worried about parking, no problem. There’s a reasonably charged parking lot right down the street.