Tag Archives: Retro candy

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 First Penny Candies: What’s Missing and Why?

Necco Wafers

Penny candy has been a favorite for kids since the burgeoning industrial age of the mid-1800s. They could buy an array of sweets in general stores, tobacco stores, and apothecaries. The Ohio Journal of Education, in an 1857 publication, Lessons in Common Things, listed a few of the selections: Cream candy, popcorn, peppermint, molasses, rose, clove, butterscotch, sugar plums, lemon drops, lemon candy, peppermint drops, French kisses, cinnamon, ice-cream, wintergreen, sour drops, horehound, lavender, gum drops, vanilla, Rock, birch, cats-eyes, and kisses.

Look carefully at this list and you’ll notice a difference from lists of today which would more likely read:  Dum Dums, Ring Pops, Smarties, and, on a good day, NECCO Wafers. In other words, then we had candy. Now we have brands.  And speaking of brands, it’s worth asking why the NECCO wafer, originally called the Chase Lozenge, or generically a soft paste candy, didn’t make the list. Made in 1847, it was among the nation’s first, if not the first, penny candy.

Here’s why: up through the mid-1900s, candy was a blend of local, handmade treats and some sold by peddlers and salesmen. Each town had their own assortment, many ethnic, courtesy of immigration. In the 1920s, for example, up to 100,000 varieties of candy bars were on the market, compliments of small candy-making enterprises, some produced in the kitchen or basement of the business owners’ homes. Candy, like all food, told a story about places and people that were shared for a penny or less.

I know, I don’t have to tell you, candy today is all about brand, such as Ghirardelli, Lindt, Hershey and many others who, ironically, got their start in the 1800s. Today’s candy gets more and more sour and the chocolate gets darker and darker or more and more fanciful, depending on whether it’s targeting health-conscious grown-ups or kids. But it doesn’t really vary that much. Even the small family-owned candy stores are startlingly alike: chocolate covered nougats and creams of tasty but limited range.

Somewhere, buried inside the ingredients list, are stories but nothing like the all those other stories that never make the shelves.  Who knows what the candies taste like and the stories reveal, but it would be amazing to find out.

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.

 

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/

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:

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.