Where’s the Caramel? Common American Candies, c. 1857
As part of a 1857 curriculum in “Object Lessons,” fifth grade pupils in Cincinnati, Ohio were invited to list “things to be seen.” Among the many categories, edibles figured highly. And among the edibles, of course candy.
I reproduce here the list of candies as an indicator of what sort of sweets were on the minds of American children in the mid-1800s:
Cream candy, pop-corn, peppermint, molasses, rose, clove, nut, Butterscotch, sugar plums, lemon drops, lemon candy, peppermint drops, French kisses, cinnamon, Ice-cream, wintergreen, sour drops, hoarhound, lavender, gum drops, vanilla, Rock, birch, cats-eyes, orange, cough, kisses.
This is not presented as an exhaustive list. These were the candies children spontaneously named when invited to shout out every sort. Nevertheless, there are some interesting conclusions we can draw.
No chocolate is the obvious one. Chocolate wouldn’t become common as a children’s candy until well into the 1900s.
Candy flavors are different, too. I take these to be flavors of hard candy or stick candy: peppermint, rose, clove, lemon, wintergreen, “sour,” hoarhound, lavender, birch, orange.
“Rock” refers most likely to the English version, hard candy embedded with shapes or letters that is pulled into a long rod and then cut to reveal the design in cross-section. And notice that ice cream, pop corn and nuts are included in the category of “candy” (although nut here might refer also to nut candy). These treats were sold where candy was sold, and eaten as candy was eaten, so the connection makes sense.
I ran across this list while researching the early uses of butterscotch and caramel. Here’s something else that I notice on the list: Butterscotch is named, caramel isn’t.
I think of caramel as a basic American candy. After all, Milton Hershey got his start in the 1890s selling caramels. But here in 1857 there is no caramel, only Butterscotch, an English candy innovation from the early 1800s. Caramel as a term referring to a stage in the cooking of sugar first appears in the 1700s. But caramel candy, that distinctive caramel flavored chewy morsel, seems to have emerged much later (looks like the 1880s), as a uniquely American variation of the English toffees and butterscotches.
Hershey, as you know, got out of the caramel business and into the chocolate business just at the right time. The twentieth century saw chocolate in ascent, a century of chocolate hegemony. But caramel seems to be making a comeback. Happily, even in candy nothing is eternal.
If you are interested in the common foodstuffs of the mid 1800s, I highly recommend taking a look at the Ohio lists (link here). The variety is surprising and instructive.