Posts filed under ‘Candy Making’

Oliver Chase and Necco Wafers: Where It All Began

In 1847 in a small drug store in Boston, Oliver R. Chase turned the crank on his latest invention, a device that would press and cut candy lozenges. As the machine-cut sweets emerged from the press, the modern world of candy was born.

The lozenge cutter probably wasn’t much to look at, just a small table-top, hand operated machine, similar to a large pasta maker. Chase could not have known as he watched the first batch of opaque disks emerge from the machine that he was changing candy forever. The lozenge cutter was the first candy-making machine. Out of that little device arose the American candy industry, and the commercial manufacture of candies on larger and larger scales.

Oliver Chase wasn’t really in the candy business. He was a pharmacist. But in the nineteeth century, if you wanted something candy-ish, the pharmacy was the place to go. Pharmacists had for centuries been using sugar to “make the medicine go down.” Sugar disguised the often bitter or unpleasant tastes of medicinal herbs and compounds. And for many maladies, sugar itself was viewed as a beneficial drug. Chase’s first “lozenges” were sold to soothe the throat or to settle the stomach. The line between “drug” and “candy” was, in those days, pretty fuzzy.  (Come to think of it, we’re still a little worried about the “drug”-like qualities of candy, but that’s for another day…)

If you’re wondering what that 1847 lozenge might have tasted like, it’s easy to find out. Just run down to the store and buy a roll of NECCO Wafers. These chalky candies seem peculiar today, but in the late nineteenth century many similar candies were made and sold, and they were very popular. Chase was making basically the same recipe in his pharmacy; once he could automate the cutting of the pasty dough, his production took off, and with in a few years he had a flourishing candy business, Chase and Company, the first in a group of companies that would come together as the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO.

More: Michael Nusair, who took the fabulous photo at the top of this entry, reviews NECCO Wafers at candyrageous.com

October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am 6 comments

Glue-cose

If you hope to create a smooth, creamy, or chewy candy, there is a particular kind of sugar you must add to your mix: glucose. In candy making, glucose creates long carbohydrate molecules that get all tangled up and prevents the other sugars from crystallizing. This is the molecular action that makes hard candies glassy rather than crystalline, and keeps grittiness out of butterscotch, caramels, and taffies.

In the early 1900s Americans were becoming more aware of the techniques of food manufacture in the new food industries. One worry was “adulteration”: were the factories adding cheap or harmful substances to the food they sold?

Commercial candy makers were under special scrutiny. They made chemically complicated concoctions, with strange and unfamiliar colors and flavors and qualities, and they sold them to children. Were the dyes and flavorings and ingredients really safe?

Some weren’t, to be sure. But one that got everybody riled up was “glue.” Glue obviously didn’t belong in candy; yet there it was, right on the list of ingredients: “gluecose.”

Dr. Cutler, a representative of the American Manufacturing Association of Products from Corn, explained the problem in a 1914 address to the National Confectioners Association:

The word ’Glucose’ is derived from that of ’Glukos, ’which was the name given to starch which had been converted into syrup, for the reason that it was sweet. The English spelling of the word was ’Glucose,’ which very easily became misspelled ’Gluecose,’ hence the conclusion by uninformed people that it was a product of ’glue,’ and as glue is made from a variety of objects such as animal hoofs, old bones, fish, etc., ’Glucose’ naturally enough became blacklisted by many. … It was found that even physicians and school teachers were actually teaching and preaching about the dangers and impurities of ’Glucose’.

Confusion about the relation between “glue” and “glucose” became so acute that the corn industry, the primary supplier of glucose, had to act. They went to congress to pass a law allowing glucose to be known henceforth by a name that would forever clear up the “glue” confusion, and would instead imply all that was wholesome and pure. So you won’t find glucose on the list of ingredients any longer. Look for this water-binding simple sugar under its common name: “corn syrup.”

For the story of corn syrup’s rise as a sugar substitute, see my post Corn Into Candy: 1918

Source: “Corn Syrup Education,” International Confectioner June 1914; Harold McGee, On Food and  Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (1984).

More on the science of Corn Syrup in candy making at Laura’s Candy Science Tuesday on Candy Dish Blog

September 28, 2009 at 6:42 am 8 comments

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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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.

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