Posts filed under ‘Books and Literature’

Candy Cook Books: Where have they Gone?

Recipe book, eggs, measuring cup, bowl, whisk and muffin tin

I was in the bookstore the other day looking for cookbooks on candy making. I found approximately…zero. I’m not saying there aren’t any at all out there, I’m just saying it doesn’t seem to be a popular topic.

And why would it be? There is amazing candy to be had, whatever your taste or budget. It’s not the kind of thing you do at home. You need special equipment, and a fearless approach to hot sticky liquids. Most of us are still struggling with the Betty Crocker Mix. But once upon a time, home candy making was a very big deal.

In the olden days (before 1865 or so), a confectioner would set up shop in town and sell what she made. The invention of candy making machines in the second half of the nineteenth century meant that by 1890, most North Americans had access to a fantastic array of commercially produced candies. That meant when you headed out to buy some candy, you wouldn’t be likely to know who made it, or even where it might have been made.

This anonymous commercial production of candy made some people quite nervous. What was in that candy? New technologies and processes were creating candies no one had ever seen before. Was it safe? Some candy makers were cutting corners, adding cheaper fillers or substituting fakes for more expensive ingredients like chocolate or nuts. Some of the new ingredients were chemicals, unknown and untested.

There was an explosion of home candy cookbooks from the 1880s to the 1910s. These cookbooks often made explicit appeals to women to protect their children. Good mothers were told never to let their children touch “cheap” candies. They might be “adulterated” with fillers, poisons, who knows what. Instead of buying cheap candy for their children, good mothers should make their children’s candy at home.

The per capita sale of candy increased dramatically from 1900 to 1915. By then, home candy making was falling out of favor. Worries about adulteration seemed less important. Pure Food laws had helped regulate additives and ingredients, and advertising and brand names increased consumer confidence in the goods they bought at the store.

It could never have been the case that home candy significantly displaced manufactured candy. Only a small number of families would have the leisure time necessary for candy making. It is likely as well that after some 25 years of experimentation, home candy cooks realized that candy making was difficult and exacting work, and the variety and quality of candy readily available at attractive prices made home candy less appealing.

The days of home candy making seem long past. I have friends who enjoy baking, friends who garden, friends who sew handbags. I don’t know anyone who makes candy at home. But these days, we think a lot about how to simplify, how to get back to basics, how to “do it yourself.” Perhaps lollipops and taffy from our own kitchens will be next!

Source: on home candy cookbooks, see Wendy A. Woloson, Refined Tastes: Sugar, Confectionery, and Consumers in Nineteenth Century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002)

Related Posts:

  • Home Made vs. Store Bought Candy
  • November 4, 2009 at 8:30 am 1 comment

    Poets and Candymakers: Louis Untermeyer

    Louis UntermeyerCandy has no doubt inspired plenty of poetry. While I can’t think of any particular odes to candy’s beauty, a candy dish surely must have fueled many a fire of poetic stamina. And as it turns out, one of the U.S.’s most beloved and influential poets of the twentieth century was a candy lover too.

    Louis Untermeyer will be known to any college English major as the editor of numerous anthologies of English and American poetry used in classrooms across the country. He was also a poet, essayist, and literary personality in his own right, publishing over 100 books and anthologies.

    Untermeyer lived from 1885 to 1977, nearly a century. Those were the decades when America set its claim to be a “nation of candy eaters,” decades of candy passion on the part of ordinary people, met with incredible variety, creativity, and deliciousness in the candy industry. A poet and a candy enthusiast, he was the perfect choice to write the book on candy at mid-century. In fact, had Untermeyer’s poetic ambitions been less successful, he might have found a career in the candy business:

    Being born with the proverbial sweet tooth, I have always found myself lingering in the vicinity of some candy store or other. … Sweets have always changed my disposition and altered my metabolism for the better. As the sugared flavors trickle past my palate, my heart leaps up, the blood courses with a livelier rhythm and my pulse beats with a happier throb. … I have never outgrown my youthful dream of working as chief sampler in a candy factory. (9)

    Untermeyer’s book is called: A Century of Candymaking, 1847-1947: The Story of the Origin and Growth of the New England Confectionery Company Which Parallels that of the Candy Industry in America. Published in 1947, the volume marked the centenary anniversary of the invention of the first candy making machine in America: the lozenge-cutting machine, invented by Oliver Chase. Chase’s little candy enterprise would eventually grow into the New England Confectionery Company, one of the biggest and most important candy companies of the twentieth century.

    The book was commissioned by the New England Confectionery Company as an official corporate history. The volume includes Untermeyer’s essay, illustrative color plates, a pictorial “trip through the modern factory,” maps of Boston’s historic candy sites and of the global origins of candy ingredients, and a chronology of major candy events from 1847 to 1947. Given the absence of any scholarly or popular history of the candy business in this period, A Century of Candymaking is, all in all, a quite useful little book.

    It was not entirely Untermeyer’s work. Historian Marion F.Lansing did all the research and collecting, as Untermeyer acknowledges. But Untermeyer wrote the text. His unique voice and his boyish love of candy bring the stories of American candy heroes to life. There are such notables as Oliver Chase, of the famous lozenge machine; Daniel Fobes, who patented “mocha” in 1867; and Abner Moody, who used his whittling skills to carve fantastical novelty candy molds in the 1870s.

    The best of the writing is a Valentine to the candy itself: Gibralters and Pralines and motto wafers and the boggling “array of color, perfection of shape and variety of flavors” that fascinated at the candy shop. Untermeyer indulges his nostalgia for the good old days when he would run to the candy shop, nickel in hand, and while away the afternoon imagining the possibilities. Candy shops, and candies, alas long gone. We’re fortunate to have A Century of Candymaking to show us what’s been lost.

    September 21, 2009 at 6:50 am 2 comments

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