Vegetable Candy Revolution
I finally got my hands on the 1912 candy cookbook classic, Candy-making Revolutionized. Until now, I’ve only known this book by reputation, and it was the reputation of a total crack-pot. The “revolution” that author Mary Elizabeth Hall promises is this: candy from vegetables.
When I first heard about this book, I made snarky comments about the preposterousness of potato creams and lima bean taffies. I assumed Hall was another of those “food faddists,” prophets of health who promoted wacky ideas like chewing your food one hundred times or eating only uncooked foods.
After all, we know that “vegetable” and “candy” are at the opposite ends of the food spectrum. Vegetables are good for you. Real food. Eat your vegetables. And candy? Barely food. Certainly, of all the things you can eat, the one that is the very worst. So I assumed that Hall’s proposal to make candy that is really vegetables was another of those food tricks: disguise and dishonesty, sneaking in the virtue under the mask of artificial vice.
I was wrong. Hall is not trying to sneak or disguise anything. Hall doesn’t have an axe to grind, and she has nothing at all against candy. She just thinks that making candy with vegetables is a good idea. And now that I’ve read the book, I have to admit to a certain admiration for Hall and her project.
The vegetable candy future Hall envisions is “purer, more wholesome, more nourishing” than that of the past, to be sure. But there is much more to recommend it.
Half the book is dedicated to decorative and artistic candy forms made with potato-based confection. She gives recipes for a sort of potato-sugar modeling dough. This substitutes for marzipan at a substantially lower cost. The potato can be shaped, molded, colored, painted, and eaten. Hall proposes this craft as a home-based business with in the reach of even the most rustic hausfrau. Every village that can muster up a ration of potatoes and sugar will be showered with potato candy roses and potato candy violets. In schools where home economics and fine arts are taught to young ladies, potato confectionery promises the most ingenious combination of the two disciplines: every girl will learn the principles of line and color while turning out edible potato castles and gnomes.
Beyond this decorative use, Hall presents vegetables in candy as having their own distinctive merits. There are colors like the red of beets and the orange or yellow of carrots that are vivid and lovely. There are new flavors from novel ingredients like green beans and rhubarb.
But the best thing about vegetable candy, at least to Mary Elizabeth Hall’s way of looking at things, was the way it solved the problem of appetite. Hall didn’t see anything wrong with candy, nor with the craving for candy. Quite the contrary: Hall thought of candy as a good form of energy food, and saw the craving for sweets as natural and benign. But children didn’t always know when to stop, and that might make them sick to their little tummies. Vegetable candy solves the problem:
Sugar it of course contains, but the vegetable base supplies no small part of the bulk; consequently children may eat their fill of it and satisfy their natural longing for candy without having gorged themselves with sugar.
It is worth noting here that the virtue of the vegetables in the candy is not the vegetables themselves, but their physical property of “bulking.” Americans were not, in 1912, all that interested in vegetables. No one had ever heard of vitamins, and the nutrition science of the day focused teaching people to view their food “scientifically” as so many calories or so much protein or carbohydrate.
Today, we have a totally different perspective on vegetables. Candy itself is trending “healthy.” So I’m wondering how long it will be before some 21st century entrepreneur discovers these recipes?
Candied carrot-rings, candied parsnips, and sweet potato patties incorporating coconut and nuts all would find, I suspect, an eager market in the artisanal food stalls popping up in every major city these days. And the recipe for tomato marshmallow sounds brilliant. Think tomato as fruit, think the color and a little subtle flavor. Candy making techniques have not changed in the last hundred years, anybody could follow these recipes. Any takers?
The recipes are here. The time is right. Mary Elizabeth Hall was just a century before her time.
- Potato Caramels and Parsnip Nougats
- Some Candies You Won’t Be Making for the Holidays
- Alayam: Candy from Sweet Potatoes
- Candy Cook Books: Where Have They Gone
Source: Mary Elizabeth Hall, Candy Making Revolutionized: Confectionery From Vegetables (1912). Available at Google Books. The image at the top of the post is the frontispiece of the book, all examples of the confections described within.