Halloween on your mind? Here’s a round up of Candy Professor Halloween stories from the archives.
- Whither Halloween Candy? When and why did Halloween get so candified, and will it always be about the candy?
Stories of early twentieth century Halloween. Halloween was parties and pranks. No trick-or-treat yet!
- Candy and Halloween Parties before 1920
Actually, not so much candy
- Retailing Halloween in the 1920s Window displays, candy favors, and a big pumpkin
- Halloween Aftermath Classic Halloween pranks from the turn of the century
- Thanksgiving Trick or Treat New York City had some surprising Thanksgiving traditions in the old days
Trick-or-treat, with the ring of the door-bell, the chant, the threat of trick, and the propitiating treat, doesn’t appear until the late 1930s and 1940s. After the conclusion of the Second World War at the end of the 1940s, trick-or-treat takes off. The 1950s were the trick-or-treat golden years:
- Candies For Trick or Treat in the 1950s
- 1951 Halloween Candy One small newspaper ad reveals all
- Trick-or-Slap Not everyone was thrilled with the whole trick-or-treat game in the 1950s
- Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating The first (and only) Halloween sadist, and the end of Halloween innocence
After all that trick or treating, what if you have too much candy? Here’s a couple of solutions:
Off site, guest posts at The Atlantic Food Channel and Salon:
- Halloween and Candy: They Weren’t Always Best Friends Really! Halloween before trick-or-treat, and after
- October’s Original Candy Holiday? Candy Day A forgotten holiday, back before the Halloween candy debauch
- The Meaning of Halloween-Psychopath Stories Arsenic-laced jelly beans and razor-studded caramels aren’t real. Faith in processed, sanitary foods certainly is.
- Candy Corn Love it? Hate it? Traditional candy, but not for Halloween!
- BOOK EXCERPT: Trick or Treating Nightmares are Urban Legends
As every cotton candy lover knows, the treat is at its best when served fresh from the machine. And a big part of the pleasure is watching the magical transformation of powder into spun floss.
The first machine to spin sugar floss was invented in 1897 by a pair of innovators from Tennessee named William Morrison and John C. Wharton. Around the same time, other versions of cotton candy machines appeared and their inventors claimed to be “the first.” But the Morrison and Wharton device was closest to the modern machine.
The mechanism is very simple. Heat melts the sugar, and the centrifugal force created by spinning the apparatus pushes it through a fine mesh. The tiny strands of molten sugar solidify when they hit the air, and cotton candy collects around the sides of the bowl. A skilled confectioner could spin sugar manually off the tines of a fork or similar instrument, but the result would never be so fine, nor could the fluffiness of cotton candy be achieved by hand. So even though manual techniques existed for creating very find strands of sugar, the spinning into fluffy clouds can only be achieved as a machine effect.
Cotton candy must be made fresh, on the spot. A whiff of humidity and it wilts into a sticky mass. As for that pre-bagged stuff at CVS…not even close. So dedicated cotton candy lovers count the days until summer, with its carnivals and county fairs. That’s the way it’s been since 1897. But the cotton candy times, they are a changin’…
I’ve seen the future, down at the multiplex: it’s a big box called the Cotton Candy Factory, a vending machine that makes a fresh, fluffy cotton candy on a stick in under a minute, right before your eyes. The floss is identical in every way to the midway classic, except you don’t have to step in horse poop to enjoy it. Price per vend? 2 dollars U.S., or 4 dollars N.Y.C.
CANDY not only tastes good, it sounds good too! In honor of the publication of CANDY, my Fearless Assistant (aka Jelly Bean Baby) has composed an original clarinet solo titled “Candy Books.”
Press play to hear it:
Today is the official publication date for Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure.
Four years in the making. Thank you to all the Candy Professor folks who encouraged me with along the way. I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Ask for CANDY at your local book shop!
Today’s old fashioned candy kitchens attract customers by displaying the candy maker in action. We watch pimply faced minimum wage teens stirring the kettle or overseeing the mechanical puller, and think, “I can do that.” The Joy of Cooking still has recipes for pulling taffy and making fudge, the very kinds of candy you are most likely to find being made before your eyes at Ye Olde Candy Kitchen.
What we aren’t likely to realize is that these simple, transparent operations are the exception. Before mechanization and the de-luxurization of sugar, the art of the sugar boiler was secret and restricted to a very few. Modern candy after 1850 was a product of technological developments that quickly took candy out of home-style kitchens. The art of the candy maker was supplemented, and perhaps in our day supplanted, by engineering.
But both art and engineering have removed candy from the realm of things we can easily comprehend and duplicate, from the days of the sugar plum through the zenith of American candy to our own globalized candy cornucopia. This is the miracle, and the marvel, of modern candy.
This month in candy here at Candy Professor Central it’s “candy corn-a-palooza.” Together with my Fearless Assistant (aka Jelly Bean Baby*), we have been noshing our way through the full spectrum of candy corn offerings.
I’ll be honest with you, it hasn’t always been pretty. Last week, we experienced a most unpleasant sort of surprise in the guise of M&M White Chocolate Candy Corn. Verdict: Don’t go there. In the spirit of gustatory recovery, then, this week we return to the classic: real, authentic candy corn.
Candy corn is a generic bit of mellocreme, invented back in the 1880s. Anybody can sell candy corn, and judging by the offerings in my local drugstores, anybody does. So we decided it was time for a little taste-off. Here are the contenders:
In the upper left corner, Jelly Belly’s premium gourmet candy corn, 99 cents/ounce.
Immediately below, Brach’s national brand candy corn, 25 cents/ounce.
And rounding out the field, on the right, Rite Aid store brand candy corn, 16 cents/ounce.
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the bottom line: you get what you pay for. The high-end Jelly Belly product truly is superior. The bits are even, regular, smooth and shiny. The flavor is mild and pleasant. The texture is just a bit grainy, with the lovely chew that distinguishes a fine candy corn. So hands down, it’s better than Brach’s. But it is fair to ask: is it FOUR TIMES better?
Brach’s candy corn is what I grew up with, and I must say I think it is quite fine. Unlike the Jelly Belly corn, Brach’s boasts “real honey” in the mix. The flavor is slightly more salty than Jelly Belly, and once someone says the word “honey” you’ll say, “Oh, yeah, it kinda does taste like honey,” although i suspect the actual amount of honey is infinitesimal. Real honey flavor doesn’t necessarily come from actual honey these days (cf. “natural flavors”).
Texture-wise, Brach’s is a bit more granular and gritty than Jelly Belly, with a more “full sweet” intensity. This is the quality that has made candy corn the Halloween treat so many hate on. But for me, it’s that mix of chewy and grainy and sweet that I love.
The Brach’s brand started as a family candy business back to the early 1900s. Then all the Brach family died or were killed in gruesome murders. In the 1980s, several changes in corporate ownership took their toll. Production moved to Mexico in 2001. Those were some dark days for Brach’s candy corn, when every bag seemed to be full of misshapen morsels pulled off the rejects line. Happily, Brach’s candy corn has turned the corner; the batch I sampled was quite an improvement. My impression is that the current owner of Brach’s, Ferrara Candy Co., is heavily investing in the whole candy corn line (more on that in a future review), and that has raised the quality.
Now, for our last contender, “generic” candy corn sold under the Rite Aid label. These are weird, let me just start with that. The shape is too angular, the orange is too reddish, they have a dull and listless look overall, and the taste…I can’t figure it out. More vanilla, less honey-salt. I will give these generic grains points on texture, though. The texture actually seems ok, maybe even smoother than the Brach’s. But something is seriously wrong with the production. Let’s have a close up:
How many pieces are actually in tact? Three? Four? Most of them have lost their white tip, and quite a few have split right down the center. This is such a mess that you can hardly call it candy corn. I would never put a bowl of this out on the table. Even at less than one-fifth the price of the gourmet Jelly Belly corn, this “generic” is no bargain.
Bottom line: if you’re eating for pure pleasure, splurge on the Jelly Belly’s. If you’re having a party, Brach’s is best. As for the generic, I have to give it my lowest ranking: fake candy corn.
If you’re interested in the back story, check out my candy corn history at TheAtlantic.com
*Jelly Bean Baby will be a familiar character to readers of CANDY: A CENTURY OF PANIC AND PLEASURE