Posts filed under ‘19th Century’

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.

February 2, 2011 at 10:17 am 3 comments

Panning for Sugar Plums

I have been investigating the term sugar plum, which refers to a panned seed or nut candy (comfit or dragee) from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Think a small jaw breaker, but with a caraway seed at the center. Sugar plum could also refer in the nineteenth century to confectionery in general, or more narrowly to the sorts of candy that are smaller and rounder. My essay on sugar plum should be appearing on The Atlantic web site shortly, but meanwhile here I wanted to share some interesting descriptions of candy manufacture that I came across in my research.

An 1868 magazine article on “Sweets and their Manufacture” introduces readers to the innovations in confectionery made possible as a result of steam heat. Here is a detailed description of the process that yields the sugar plum, in this case based on an almond:

The veritable sugar-plum, or almond-drop, is made in a very interesting manner. A number of almonds, after being coated with a little gum to catch the white sugar, are thrown into a deep pan surrounded with steam. This pan revolves sideways at an angle of forty-five degrees. As it revolves the almonds, of course, tumble over one another, and whilst they are doing so, the workman pours over them from time to time liquid white sugar, allowing a sufficient time to elapse between each supply for the sugar to harden upon the comfit. In this way it grows by the imposition of layer upon layer, until it is the proper size. By this simple motion, the sugar is deposited in the smoothest and most regular manner.

This is a description of the process confectioners call “panning,” and the finished product will be familiar to modern readers as a species of what we call “Jordan almonds.”  A similar process is the basis for the broad category of comfits.

Even with the aid of a mechanized rotating pan and steam heat, comfits are a tedious and exacting enterprise. And when it was done by hand, comfit making took days. Although the author of this 1838 recipe insists that comfits may be “easily made at home,” the extensive instructions belie this easy reassurance:

A preserving-pan must be provided with two handles, through which a string is fastened that runs across, which is connected with a pulley attached to a beam, so that at the least touch, the pan rises or falls, or swings backward and forward. … There must be, besides this pan, two saucepans, one to hold a slightly warm solution of gum arabic, the other to contain some syrup which is boiled during a quarter of an hour, when some of finest white starch of wheat is dissolved in water and mixed with it. Under the swinging-pan there is a charcoal fire at a sufficient distance to give it only a gentle heat. The seeds of which the comfits or sugar-plums are to be made, are put into the swinging-pan when it is just warm. A ladleful of the solution of gum is poured over them, and the seeds are briskly stirred and rubbed with the hands till they feel dry; a ladleful of the syrup mixed with starch is next poured in, and the seeds again rubbed and stirred till they are dry. This process is repeated until the comfits have undergone the first operation. They are then set in a stove to dry. Next day the operation is repeated, the quantity of starch being varied and the syrup made stronger; and so on every day till the comfits are of the requisite size.

… Good sugar-plums take five or six days in making. … Comfits are made with caraway seeds, cardamums, bleached almonds, and a variety of other things.

According to Laura Mason in The Prehistory of Sweets, prior to the invention of labor saving machinery the techniques for making comfits were closely guarded and few had the expertise to make them. So comfits or sugar plums were a luxury good, most likely to be found in an aristocrats pocket or between courses at a very decadent royal banquet. Isn’t it nice to think that jelly beans and M&Ms, our contemporary version of panned candies, have such a noble ancestry?

Related post: Candy Confetti

December 17, 2010 at 11:04 am 1 comment

Candy Machine Revolution

If you think candy is all about sugar and chocolate, you’re wrong.

Candy is all about the machines.

Sure, without machines you can make a bit of candy. And if we just ate a few pieces of fudge at Christmas and a bite of taffy once in a while, that might be fine. But America is a great candy eating nation! And to make the huge quantities of cheap candy that will put mounds of sweets in every store on every corner on every day of the year, you need machines. Machines for mixing and cooking and pouring and molding and cutting and wrapping revolutionized candy. Over a few decades at the end of the nineteenth century, American confectionery was transformed from a small, local craft into a huge industry.

Today we take the machines for granted. In the beginning, though, there was wonder and amazement at what a machine could do. Here is a glimmer from the very beginning, as described in a 1864 book on the “art of sugar boiling”:

Twenty years since [c 1840] it was considered rather a clever thing (with a pair of scissors, the principal tool a sugar boiler used) to cut a seven pound boil of acid drops to size, and with the help of a practised boy, make them round and press them flat, with the hands, in half-an-hour. The same quantity may now, with the machine, be made into drops, by the boy alone, in five minutes.

The machine meant that the same boy could be six times as productive. And the skill of working the machine was far less specialized than the craft of working hot sugar. Labor costs go down, productivity goes up, cheap candy zooms out of the factory and into the belly of the nation.

Source: Henry Weatherly, Treatise on the Art of Boiling Sugar (London, 1864) cited in Tim Richardson, Sweets: A History of Candy (Bloomsbury, 2002)

Related Post: The Beginning of Candy

November 8, 2010 at 9:41 am 1 comment

The Gruesome King of Candy Land

By 1890, candy was everywhere. It was cheap, and it was plentiful, and children with just a penny or two could enjoy an afternoon of sucking and chewing and licking all sorts of sweet stuff.

Not everybody was happy about this. Adult reformers and alarmists were appalled at the spectacle of children choosing and enjoying their own treats. No good could come of it. Adults who sought to save children from their own worst impulses did not hesitate to use dramatic scare tactics to persuade youngsters, and their overly lax parents, of the evils of candy.

Here is one version of didactic anti-candy literature, a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox that was published in several magazines in the 1890s. Ella Wheeler Wilcox was best known for her inspirational and sentimental popular poetry. You can see here that, when children’s teeth and stomachs seemed in danger, she would not hesitate to go over to the dark side.


The King of Candy Land
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (c. 1890)

Have you heard of the King of Candy Land?
Well,listen while I sing;
He has pages on every hand,
For he is a mighty king,
And thousands of children bend the knee
And bow to this ruler of high degree.

He has a smile, O! like the sun,
And his face is crowned and bland;
His bright eyes twinkle and glow with fun,
As the children kiss his hand;
And every thing toothsome, melting sweet,
He scatters freely before their feet.

But woe! for the children who follow him,
With loving praise and laughter,
For he is a monster, ugly and grim,
That they go running after:
And when they get well into the chase,
He lifts his mask and shows his face.

And O! that is a grewsome sight,
For the followers of the king:
The cheeks grow pale that once were bright,
And they sob instead of sing;
And their teeth drop out and their eyes grow red,
And they cannot sleep when they go to bed.

And often they see the monster’s face,–
They have no peaceful hour;
And they have aches in every place,
And what was sweet seems sour.
O, woe! for that foolish sorrowful band
Who follow the King of Candy Land.

While I don’t recall candy ever giving me nightmares when I was a child, I suspect this poem might have done the trick.

Related Posts:

  • Poetry and Candy Lands, 1875
  • December 18, 2009 at 8:50 am 3 comments

    Poetry and Candy Lands, 1875

    kings crown

    Candy Land was a recurrent theme of popular children’s literature in the late nineteenth century. Poems and stories frequently featured children dreaming of a candy land, or being whisked away by the wind and landing in a candy forest, or taking a train by invitation of the King to a land of Candy. These candy lands represented the ideal of children’s desires: children, like candy, were seen as being sweet and insubstantial. Children, left to their own desires, would be expected to desire nothing so much as unlimited sweets.

    “The King of Candy-Land” appeared in a children’s magazine called The Youth’s Companion in 1875. This writer describes a child’s dream of a land of candy, where every lovely thing tastes as good as it looks. In this benign vision, Candy-Land is a land far away from ideas about proper meals and sugar making you sick. There are no nagging grownups here to stand in the way of the child’s pleasure. It’s all candy, and it’s all good.

    King of Candy-Land
    by Hugh Howard (1875)

    I had such a lovely dream last night!
    It was truly so fine and grand!
    I thought I was king, all alone by myself,
    Of a land called Candy-Land!

    I dwelt in the great lemon-cocoanut walls
    Of a palace just to my taste;
    With its furniture made out of all things nice,
    From taffy to jujube paste!

    With rarest of candies at every turn,
    Obedient slaves would wait,
    And my throne was studded with peppermint-drops,
    And carved out of chocolate!

    And O, ’twas such fun as I wandered through
    Those beautiful rooms alone,
    To bite off a morsel of sofa or chair,
    Or nibble a bit of throne!

    This poem is somewhat unusual for the “candy land” genre in so far as there are no negative consequences that result from the child’s indulgence in (imaginary) candy. In fact, the child in this poem dreams of having all the power, of being “king, all alone.” When he is put to bed, he is but a powerless child who only gets candy when Mama says yes. But when he enters his dream, he becomes the powerful King who is lavished with candies by his “obedient slaves.” The reversal of power suggests another idea in this poem as well: a rebellion against adult expectations of “proper behavior” and good manners. In Candy-Land, the child is free to lick the walls and bite the furniture and enjoy his own power as king. Back in his mother’s parlor, such destruction would surely result in a spanking.

    In the next post, I’ll share an example of a much darker vision of what will happen to children if they give in to their desire for candy.

    Related Posts:

  • The Gruesome King of Candy Land
  • Source: Hugh Howard, Children’s Column: “King of Candy-Land,” The Youth’s Companion 14 October 1875.

    December 16, 2009 at 9:36 am 1 comment

    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

    October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am 6 comments

    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.

    (C) Samira Kawash

    All written contents protected by copyright. Except where noted, Candy Professor is my original research, based on archives, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other historical artifacts. You do not have permission to copy or re-post my content. If you want to refer to my work, please create a link from the blog entry and also write out the citation:
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