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Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Innocence of Candy
It’s odd, the memories that stay with you. I can recall being about four years old, and my parents had taken the family to a diner that was tucked back in a strip mall in the blue-collar town of Butler, Pennsylvania. I can remember one of my four siblings creating a bit of a fuss over the lack of hot dogs on the menu. I can remember the cup of coffee that my dad ordered, and the plain ceramic mug in which it was served. I can even remember the pattern of the Formica that surfaced the table.
But the event that makes the day most memorable was that this was the day I first spit out a piece of candy.
The candy itself was a Brach’s jelly nougat, a smallish piece of candy that the waitress gave to each of us children while our parents drank coffee and checked the validity of the bill.
The candy perplexed me. The texture of the nougat was soft and gritty, and the jelly pieces stuck in the candy felt oddly out of place. The colors were new to me as well, with the pieces retaining either a matted pink or a dull orange after surviving whatever process the folks at Brach’s had inflicted upon them. What fruits they were supposed to represent is likely unknown to all except the people who made these candies.
It was not as if I disliked the piece of candy. It was chock-full of sugar, and thus had an appeal that would raise the eyebrows of most preschoolers and test the patience of the majority of parents out there. But it wasn’t chocolate. Nor was it a Life Saver, a marshmallow, or even a candy cane. It was something else.
I spat it out into my hand and looked at it. I reflected for a moment on whether it tasted good, setting aside for the time being the fact that it tasted weird. It did pass the sweetness test, so how bad could it be?
My father, of course, solved the situation, demanding that I stop “playing with my food,” not recognizing the moment for what it was. I was tasting nougat for the first time, and I was determining whether it was worth the effort.
What makes this scene so important in my development was that it was the first time I can remember having a surprising moment with a piece of candy. This was the first time that candy had left me intrigued.
This is what makes that moment so memorable. It wasn’t that I mindlessly liked candy. It was the first time that I had formed an educated opinion about food, based on experience and introspection. Not only did I like the nougat, I liked the process that allowed me to reach that conclusion. I vowed right then and there to repeat it as often as possible. I have since had ample opportunity to accomplish this goal.
For the first dozen or so years of my life, candy was the panacea for every trial and tribulation that came my way. If I scraped my knee, my mom would be there with a Tootsie Pop. When I learned I needed glasses, my dad stopped to buy me some Bub’s Daddy bubble gum.1 After the first day of kindergarten, Mom marked the occasion with Smarties. (These would be the compressed sugar Smarties known in the United States, not the candy-covered chocolates known to Canadians and Brits, which were closer in design to M&M’s.) Candy was something that lessened pain and made life a little more tolerable.
But it was more than just that. Candy also made appearances when life was to be celebrated. Easter, Christmas, and Halloween all came with copious amounts of sugary treats. Birthday parties held in the neighborhood ensured that each young guest received a bag of goodies. Trips to the grandparents on my mother’s side promised, at the very least, rock candy, but usually something more. My paternal grandmother was not a fan of candy, and trips to her house meant little chance of a candy high, though she did have a way with cakes, cookies, and pies, so those of us who equated sugar with love were able to welcome visits to her house without fear.
In short, candy was available in good times and bad. It was the initial mixed message that was fed to my siblings and me. This environment set the table for the first few years of my life. Candy was our ambrosia. We tolerated the healthy meals of fish sticks and broccoli but counted the days to the next holiday or birthday party. Mrs. Paul could take a flying leap for all we cared, but Peter Paul was looked upon with an admiration that left him just behind Jesus and Santa Claus. Along with Dolly Madison, Peter Paul sponsored the several Charlie Brown cartoon specials that were shown throughout the year. Only later did I learn that Peter Paul was not a person, but a company, and that the wife of President James Madison had precious little to do with Zingers and Donut Gems.
Then, when I was seven, an amazing thing happened. My father instituted a practice that changed my candy life forever. He offered every one of his children an allowance. Into our greedy, grimy little hands, he placed money, with a promise of more each week. In theory, I’m sure he felt he was teaching us fiscal responsibility. In practice, what we learned was thrift shopping. Why buy a twenty-five-cent Milky Way bar, when for the same price we could buy Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans, and a three-pack of Lik-m-Aid? Making a big purchase such as a Snickers bar was deemed financially irresponsible.
Economics seemed to filter throughout our family’s candy universe. At Halloween, each of us children would go off with our circle of friends, the older children dressed in costumes of their own creations, while we younger kids wore those prepackaged costumes that smelled of polyvinyl and included cheap plastic masks that chafed the face. Not that the masks mattered, because they would fall off when the cheap rubber band broke fifteen minutes after we set off on our routes. After all five of us had completed our neighborhood rounds, we would compare stashes while a parent looked on.
A currency system was soon created, and trades occurred in great haste. Our living room looked like an elementary school version of the New York Stock Exchange as our entire evening’s haul littered the floor. Soon, a hierarchy of candy developed. In the middle of the value range sat the York Peppermint Pattie. Those above the York Peppermint Pattie were highly valued: Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at the top, with 3 Musketeers and $100,000 bars close behind. Those below the pattie line were trade bait, valued more for the quantity one could collect than for the short-term indulgence of the “quality” candy bars that one experienced. These included Chuckles, Good & Plenty, and the worst thing one could get during the Halloween excursions—the dreaded popcorn ball.
Kate’s Candy Bag
YORK PEPPERMINT PATTIE
A mint fondant that’s encased in dark chocolate, the York Peppermint Pattie was created in York, Pennsylvania (hence, its name), where it was purchased by the Peter Paul company in 1972, which became the property of Cadbury in 1978, which sold the confection and recipe to Hershey in 1988. The York Peppermint Pattie was known primarily for two things: coincidentally having the same name as a character in Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts; and commercials that compared the sensation of eating a York Peppermint Pattie to skiing in the alps or being trapped on a glacier. This I thought strange, for when I bit into a York Peppermint Pattie, I got the sensation of eating chocolate right after brushing my teeth.
Candy Exchange Rate:
1 York Peppermint Pattie = 1 York Peppermint Pattie
We were sure it was no coincidence that those who gave away these lame treats were childless. When popcorn ball givers walked the streets of our neighborhood, children would look upon them as if they were extras from Village of the Damned. These miscreants wouldn’t escape our suspicion until the next Halloween, when inevitably they changed from popcorn balls to chocolates or their porch lights were no longer lit.
But really, it was the trading for candy that I remember most. With four siblings in the house, I had to develop strategies in trading. Those of us who traded quickly for Milky Ways and Clark bars often found ourselves without candy a mere three days later. Those of us who traded for the multitudes of Bazooka Joes, Sugar Babies, and the odd bags of candy corn soon found ourselves holding a monopoly over the family candy supply by election day.
Easter was the second most anticipated candy holiday on the calendar. Various Sunday school lessons instructed us that Easter Sunday was the day we celebrated Jesus Christ’s resurrection. What my pack of friends and I believed was that Easter was the day that Jesus, in the form of a bunny, showed up at our houses in the middle of the night, tossed hard-boiled eggs all over the place, and then apologized for the mess we’d have to clean up by leaving a basket full of candy. We started the morning by recovering all the eggs that Jesus had haphazardly thrown around the house. By the end of the day, we were stuffed full of marshmallow Peeps, jelly beans, and loads of chocolate.
It was the chocolate that resulted in the first upgrade in the quality of the candy we were given. When we were younger we received chocolate rabbits, which we thought a tad cruel, and we questioned whether we would go to hell for biting off the rabbit ears first. Over the course of the next few years, this evolved into us children imitating the rabbits as their horrible child overlords chomped into their chocolate flesh. The last year we had chocolate rabbits, our father noticed us screaming in sadistic glee while doing our best bunny impersonations of these confections, pleading, “Oh my god, no! No! No! Don’t eat my…!” and then immediately devouring the rabbit’s head. The next year, each of us received a softball-sized chocolate cream–filled egg, with fondant decorations. While he clearly paid more money for these ...
- ASIN : B006JJYZNY
- Publisher : St. Martin's Press (May 22, 2012)
- Publication date : May 22, 2012
- Language : English
- File size : 534 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 321 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,189,977 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Hopkins tells a compelling tale. Her take on the history of candy is the history of sugar and chocolate, with the final products of each having their own tales throughout time. It is a history of slavery, mistakes, capitalism, and the destruction of towns. It is a history of a product that went from being medicine, to being something only the wealthy consumed, to being something thought of only being for children. In that lies the power behind the book, but it is also what drove me a little nuts.
Each chapter could have been its own book, and since the book was short and covering the history of candy (a broad subject), I knew nothing could be delved into all that deeply. Still, as a primer, it works. I just wanted more ... which says much about Hopkins and her subject ... and me, I guess.
The ancient Egyptians may have combined nuts or seeds with honey, but there is no evidence of sugar making until around 500 AD. Naturally, the history of candy is closely linked to the history of sugar, and Hopkins does not skip reflections on the darkest part of this history, slavery. Not only was there a slave problem centuries ago, but we continue the problem today with that other irresistible treat, chocolate. There are horrors of child slavery especially in Ivory Coast which supplies about 40% of the world's cocoa beans. That such things might still be, just to get us our chocolate treats, is a dismal reflection on humanity. Throughout the book, Hopkins includes sidebars labeled "Kate's Candy Bag," a nod to her beloved Halloweens of childhood. Halloween plays a huge role in candy sales, and the candy makers know it, but it is a relatively modern holiday. The National Confectioners Association was formed in 1884, partly to improve candy's image; as an example of how easily some people will disapprove of what they see others enjoying, Hopkins quotes one moralist as advising how candy shops were "hot beds of disease," and candy consumption would lead to "intemperance, gluttony, and debauchery." The NCA wanted to clear candy of such charges, and incidentally, to make more money. They proposed a Candy Day, the second Saturday of October starting in 1916, for exhibiting and promoting their candy wares, but in the 1920s trick or treating with candy handouts seems to have started in the west, and moved eastwards. We have our candy day, but it is not Candy Day.
Hopkins goes first to Palermo, where there are ancient confections based on Roman and Arabian cuisines, but in which also she mistakenly enters a shop thinking it sells candy, while it turns out to be the storefront of a wedding consultant. "My first attempt at acquiring candy in a foreign land, and here I was, inadvertently attempting to plan my own nuptials." She goes to Genoa, because of the connection to Christopher Columbus, who influenced candy strongly because he helped in the propagation of sugarcane, but he also failed to influence it even more because it's likely he was the first European to come across chocolate, and he didn't do a thing about it. In Venice, she visits the city most associated with the spice trade of its time; sugar was treated like a spice, and also combined with spices to make flavored candies. In England, a land that loves its toffees and chocolates, she has Edinburgh Rock and Soor Plooms and rhubarb custards. Finally back in the USA, she makes her pilgrimage to Hershey, Pennsylvania, joyously visiting a city founded on chocolate, a visit that somehow her parents had denied her when she was little. The worldwide tour is great fun, and it is a delight to read her funny, self-deprecating reports. You can read her book, learn some important world history, and wonder at some very fancy or very plain candies. You won't risk a single cavity or gain a pound, unless (and this is a true risk) you find Hopkins's enthusiasm contagious.
All in all unless you know almost nothing about the way candy ( mostly chocolate and old fashioned candy, little mention was made of modern sugar candies like sours, Skittles, Nerds, Etc other than gummi bears) was made and is made today i dont think this book will prove overly enlightning.