Cockroaches for Christmas (candy of course)

December 14, 2010 at 8:59 am 1 comment

Cockroach

If you’d like to experience a bit of Victorian Christmas this year, you might visit the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Indiana. Historical interpreters at this museum are re-creating some late 19th century holiday traditions for their visitors. One might surprise you: Christmas candies in the shape of cockroaches!

Marcia Young of the museum explained to a reporter for the Illinois Times:

“Candy was a big deal to kids. Getting candy only happened on very special occasions,” says Young. For Christmas, Victorians gave them lots of candy in stockings or as gifts. Some of that candy was made to look like items in nature. “This was a time in which a lot of exploration is occurring all over the globe,” Young says. “Victorians are very excited about what they’re finding. They’re fascinated by the natural world, even the smallest parts, like insects.” That fascination inspired their candy-making, so they created [candies] that looked like carrots, lobsters, rabbits, beetles, spiders, and even cockroaches.

Today the Davis Mansion is offering a modern interpretation of those Christmas Cockroaches, made of molded chocolate.  But the candies the Davis children received long ago would not likely have been made of chocolate. The museum has a letter received by Sarah Davis that describes a “sugar cockroach” received by a young friend in Massachusetts.

A “sugar cockroach” would be a molded fondant candy, similar to the inside of a Peppermint Patty.  Candy corn was invented around the same time; like cockroaches, corn was another of the plants, animals and insects that were popular shapes for the candy of the day (see my article on the history of candy corn at TheAtlantic.com). Now, I wonder why candy corn was so popular, and candy cockroaches just didn’t catch on? And what about candy bedbugs?

Entry filed under: 1890 to WW I, Candies We Miss, Holidays. Tags: .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Steve Schmidt  |  December 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    About the Victorian watermelon cake — a cake shaped and tinted to look like a slice of watermelon when cut — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings writes that her mother made this cake “at the tail end of the Victorian era, when objects were designed to imitate other objects and aesthetic delight was supposed to ensue. It was the era of pictures made of sea shells, of toothpick holders in the shape of diminuative pot-pots, of porcelain knickknacks in the form of unnatural and revolting animals” — and, apparently, of candies in the form of cockroaches. Who would have guessed?

    Reply

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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