Posts filed under ‘Holidays’

Halloween Round Up

Halloween on your mind? Here’s a round up of Candy Professor Halloween stories from the archives.

Stories of early twentieth century Halloween. Halloween was parties and pranks. No trick-or-treat yet!

Trick-or-treat, with the ring of the door-bell, the chant, the threat of trick, and the propitiating treat, doesn’t appear until the late 1930s and 1940s. After the conclusion of the Second World War at the end of the 1940s, trick-or-treat takes off. The 1950s were the trick-or-treat golden years:

After all that trick or treating, what if you have too much candy? Here’s a couple of solutions:

Off site, guest posts at The Atlantic Food Channel:

October 26, 2010 at 10:00 am 4 comments

Halloween Candy to the Troops

If you have kids at Halloween time, you’ve probably already started to strategize a plan for candy rationing.

Dentists in your community are happy to help. Have you heard about the Halloween Candy Buy  Back? Participating dentists will accept your kids’ excess candy, pay out a dollar a pound, and send the candy to U.S. military serving overseas.

Over the years dentists have independently come up with the idea of gathering up all that extra Halloween candy and getting rid of it somehow. In 2006, Madison WI dentist Chris Kammer began to coordinate and organize the event nationally, emphasizing the buy back as a way of supporting the troops. Hundreds of local dental offices now participate. The master plan, according to Dr. Kammer, is that one day soon, dentists will “own Halloween.”

It is a win-win, as the dentists put it. Fewer pounds of candy for American kids, more pounds of candy for American troops.

Actually, taking candy from the kids and sending it to the troops is a pretty old idea.

Back in the 1890s, the German military started experimenting with sugar as a food for their soldiers. Sugar, the Germans concluded, refreshed and energized. The soldiers receiving sugar portions outperformed the sugar-free on every measure. Americans took note: Mary Hinman Abel, writing for the USDA, reported extensively on these military investigations in her 1899 study “Sugar as Food.”

The growth of candy manufacturing made more candy available for military uses. From a 1908 account of the Brooklyn candy trade:

Nowadays every battleship leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard has on board a lot of candy for the men–Brooklyn candy. ‘Why, in the navy, when a man is handed a pound of tobacco now he is also given a certain amount of candy, and it is believed that the drinking habit will be lessened in that way,’ said a manufacturer. ‘The sailors like the plan immensely, but if they knew it was done for that, they would probably chuck the candy overboard. But aside from that, it is a good food for them; men can fight better on chocolate than on meat–that has been proved in the German army.’ (“Brooklyn leads Country in Candy Export”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 7, 1908)

Even before the U.S. joined the European war, the soldiers’ love of candy was a common theme (see my post Taking Candy from a Soldier). The war-weary GIs returning from battle in World War I brought home with them a hearty candy appetite. The explosive growth of the U.S. candy business in the 1920s and 1930s was in large part due to a new, rigorous kind of candy eating: not just kiddies and plump ladies, but big strong soldier men had to have their candy.

World War II meant once again a big demand for candy for the troops. Sugar, and candy, were in short supply state-side during the war years, partly due to war shortage, but also due to the requisitioning of huge quantities of candy for military uses. Curtiss Candy reminded customers that Uncle Sam’s needs came first:

LIFE Magazine, 23 Jan 1943

If Americans were forced to give up some of their beloved candy to the troops in the 1940s, it was because it was the right thing, the patriotic thing to do.

And Tootsie Roll picked up the theme in their advertising:

LIFE Magazine, 26 Oct 1942 (detail)

In the Tootsie Roll ad, the joke is that the kids are mad that the grown ups are taking their candy: the soldier should buy his own Tootsie Roll. In jest or in the seriousness of war, the basic message was the same: you’ll have to give up your candy to the soldier if there isn’t enough to go around.  But patriotic support of the troops is the only reason you’d forgo your candy.

In the Halloween Buy Back, the long history of “candy for the troops” collides with more recent ideas about what is bad about candy. It is dentists, after all, representatives of health and hygiene, who are encouraging kids and families to turn in their candy to send to the troops. But if the candy is bad for the kids, why isn’t it bad for the troops?

The Buy Back FAQ suggests some responses to critics who ask this annoying question:

If you get negative comments or feedback, remind critics of the purpose of Halloween Candy Buy Back:

  1. Halloween candy represents a warm memory of life “back home” and children that care enough to donate candy in support of our troops.
  2. Those troops are risking their lives every day. If a little piece of candy can provide a moment of happiness, why not?
  3. Soldiers are adults and certainly understand how to keep their mouths healthy by now. Children are still learning how to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth.

The first two answers emphasize candy not as candy, but as an emotion-laden symbol. This solves the conflict between candy and dental virtue by making the candy invisible: In all those crates of candy, we’re not sending candy, we’re sending support and the warmth of home.

The third reason is that kids shouldn’t have candy because candy causes cavities in kids, but somehow adults will not have this problem. Here is where things get tricky.

Cavities are caused by acids given off by bacteria as they feed on sugars and starches deposited on the teeth. Not every mouth is equally susceptible. Some kids get tons of cavities no matter what they eat. Some kids plant their face in the sugar bowl and get none. And all sugars and starches that adhere to the teeth, be they from candy, bread, pasta, jam, potatoes, and even raisins, can create a bacterial strong hold.

Of course, a “spaghetti buy back” would not put the dentists on the side of angels. Candy is easy to blame, has been for a century, and dentists have grabbed on to the candy scapegoat. This is why dentists can contemplate “owning Halloween.” Don’t get me wrong: I love my dentist. But I love my candy too.

See also: NCA Operation Frontline Candy; “Candy in Combat Zones” in Candy and Snack Today

October 26, 2010 at 8:53 am 7 comments

Candy and Halloween Parties before 1920

In North America, Halloween parties have long been a favorite way to mark the holiday. The first descriptions of parlor gatherings come from the 1870s; by the 1890s the festivities were well established, with a variety of favorite games and activities and of course foods and decorations. Then as today, Halloween parties have always had a place for candy. But the kinds of candy, and the role of candy in the festivities, have changed pretty dramatically.

From the American Girl’s Handy Book (1888), a full chapter on festivities for “All Hallow Eve”, wherein candy makes a brief appearance:

Putting aside conventionality and dignity as we laid aside our wraps, ready for any fun or mischief that might be on hand, we proceeded down-stairs and into the kitchen, where a large pot of candy was found bubbling over the fire. This candy, poured into plates half-full of nuts, was eaten at intervals during the evening, and served to keep up the spirits of those who were inclined to be cast down by the less pleasing of Fortune’s decrees.

Ideas for a Halloween party in 1894 published in The American Agriculturalist included these proposals for refreshments: nut cake, pop corn, molasses candy and “as many more goodies as one cares to provide.”

In these pre-1900 party scenes, the candy references are decidedly turned toward the home-spun. Molasses candy could be purchased, but it was also a simple candy to make oneself, by cooking down molasses to candy consistency. As the American Girl’s Handy Book suggests, home candy making was a fun activity, especially suited to the colder fall and winter months.

The use of manufactured candy at Halloween only slowly became a common practice.  The children’s magazine St. Nicholas describes in detail the decorations, refreshments, games and entertainments for a children’s celebration of Halloween in 1905. Candy makes one brief appearance as part of the dining table décor: “The dining-table was set with a group of carrot candlesticks and bowlfuls of apples, nuts, grapes, and candy.” The story does not specify what sorts of candy are in the bowls. Here is an image:

Is there even any candy in this picture? The predominance of apples, grapes and nuts suggests that candy’s place in the 1905 Halloween decorating and treating scheme was minimal.

Where purchased candy is incorporated into the party, it is not necessarily any special kind of candy. For example, in 1917, the Kansas chapter of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity reported:

On October 20 the annual tacky party was given. Arriving in a hayrack, the guests entered the house by way of the kitchen door. The rooms were decorated with corn and witches in true Halloween fashion. Popcorn, apples, penny candy sticks, doughnuts, pie, and cider were served. The party was one of the most successful in the chapter’s history.

The “penny candy sticks” featured in Phi Gamma Delta’s Halloween romp were just about the most ordinary sort of candy you could find in those days. And in these Menus for Halloween Suppers featured in the October 1915 issue of American Cookery (the magazine of the Boston Cooking School) the proposed molasses candy, caramels and marshmallows were year round popular commercial candies. Notably, one of the three menus has no candy at all:

Hot Bacon Sandwiches
Potato Salad
Pickles Olives
Toasted Marshmallows
Pop Corn Balls

Hot Cheese Sandwiches
Cucumber Sandwiches
Yeast Doughnuts, Sugared
Molasses Candy

Oyster Salad
Buttered Rolls
Chocolate E’clairs
Roasted Chestnuts

Today, many Americans and parents especially are beginning to feel like the candy at Halloween has gotten a little out of hand. These party descriptions and ideas from a century ago might be good inspiration for a way of celebrating a less candified Halloween.  Halloween Donuts, anyone?

More: An excellent book on the history of Halloween in North America (but not, alas, much on candy) is Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford University Press, 2002).

October 22, 2010 at 9:30 am 9 comments

Retailing Halloween in the 1920s

One of the fun things about looking back at the beginnings of the commercial candy trade is to see how modern ideas about marketing, sales and promotion first began to take hold. Today we are so accustomed to the annual round of seasonal sales and holiday decorations. But in the early 1900s, these were new ideas for retail.

In a 1917 issue of The National Druggist (St. Louis, MO), for example, a writer explains the basic idea of holiday promotion:

Holiday times are always good times for business. In the first place, people are then in a spending humor. “Other days they go around with their pockets buttoned up tight,” says an old druggist. “On holidays they open them.” … The point is that it will pay a retail merchant to capitalize the holidays as they come along, that is, to catch people while they are in a spending humor.

The description for window display possibilities for Halloween from this same article gives a useful description of the kind of commercial decorations that were widely available from stationery and novelty shops in this era:

Halloween gives us a fine opportunity for working up timely business. The wholesale stationers and novelty houses supply a big line of Halloween favors, place cards, paper table covers, paper napkins, noise makers, Halloween hats and a variety of Halloween decorations. Halloween suits for small children are coming into vogue now and some good sales may be made. Halloween is always a great time for window displays. The season’s colors, yellow and black, are extremely effective.

Interesting to note the reference to “Halloween suits for small children.” Although trick or treating was not yet invented, it was popular in some cities and towns to parade about or to go visiting door to door on Halloween. Here is an early glimmer of the costume business that will become so central to Halloween in our day.

Publications for soda fountains and candy shops made similar efforts to persuade business proprietors of the necessity of dressing up for the holidays. In the October 1921 issue of  The Soda  Fountain (New York, NY), a column urges “More Window Displays Needed”:

Window displays and fountain decorations are more important factors in business than is generally realized and the establishments which make use of them to the fullest extent are loud in their praise of them as business-getters.

This column offers some ideas for Halloween display as well:

Halloween, with its traditional orange and black color schemes, its pumpkins and black cats and witches, offers the excuse for any number of effective decorative schemes. With these displays may be joined various devices for attracting trade: souvenirs, special dishes, contests, etc., may all be tied up with the Halloween displays. Special candy sales, using appropriate containers are effective and often used to attract attention.

Soda fountains often sold candy as well, so the reference to special candy sales is not unusual. But it is notable that while special sales are mentioned, special candies are not.

While many small businesses seem to have been timid about taking advantage of holiday themes, some retailers in this era were extremely creative and adventurous in mounting impressive seasonal displays. A 1918 story in The National Drug Clerk (Chicago) describes in detail the Halloween display of one large New York druggist:

The ceiling and walls of the window were covered with grey crepe, and were cleverly decorated with black witches sailing on their brooms, black cats, and yellow pumpkins. To give a different effect, some of the witches were sailing in aeroplanes, and had a black cat sitting on one of the wings.

In the middle of the window was the customary large pumpkin. The eyes, instead of being square, were large and round.and long eyebrows tilting down toward the nose, were painted in, in black. The nose was cut in a V-shape, with black whiskers twirling around the mouth. The eyes were illuminated with tiny red lights.To the left of the pumpkin was a large mask (about two or three times the size of a regular mask) resembling a pirate. … To the right of the pumpkin was a mask resembling the Giant in “Jack the Giant Killer.” …  Suspended on different colored strings, which hung from the ceiling, were numerous kinds of masks of regulation size. 

On the floor of the window, which was also covered with grey crepe, were dainty little printed invitations. Some of the invitations were decorated with black cats while some were plain. Here and there were favors for the party, consisting of tiny boxes of candy in the shape of wishing wells and cats, whistles shaped like witches on their brooms, small dolls dressed up as witches and apples made of a wire frame, covered with red transparent paper, and filled with candy.

Leaning against the walls were books of games, conundrums and some of the popular ghost stories and superstitions connected with Hallowe’en.

This is a display for a druggist, not a candy store, but it is nevertheless striking that candy is so inconspicuous in the display. Druggists were perhaps the next largest retailers of candy, after specialty candy shops.Yet in this display, candy is only featured as the filling for party favors.

I imagine these paper-covered wire frame apple favors as the ancient ancestors of today’s trick or treat plastic pumpkin buckets. A century ago, kids would take home an apple’s worth of candy corn from their Halloween festivities. Today, we fill those huge pumpkins to the brim.

October 20, 2010 at 10:30 am 3 comments

1951 Halloween Candy

Here’s an ad for Kresge’s Market, New London CT, for 30 October 1951:

I was really happy to find this ad for many reasons. I have been trying to piece together the history of the  Halloween-candy connection, and this ad has some important clues.

The separation between “Halloween candy” and “trick or treat favors” is interesting. Presumably the former is more appropriate for refreshments at Halloween parties. The butter cream corns (candy corn), Hallowe’en butter creams (think Brach’s Harvest Mix), and orange and black kisses are just like the kinds of candies we would choose for a Halloween party today, orange and black and seasonal.

Despite this division between party candies to fill the bowl and “trick or treat favors,” I think it was not uncommon for the loose “party” candies to also be offered to trick or treaters. In fact, the candies listed for trick or treat are not all wrapped; licorice pieces and M&Ms would be loose, and ad suggests that other types of candy are also offered at 1 cent per piece. The insistence on portioned and pre-wrapped candy as the only acceptable trick or treat offering comes much later.

One puzzle: Why wouldn’t mini-Hershey’s be included for trick or treat? Perhaps at 45 cents a pound, it was a little too much for kiddie give away, it seems the candies under “trick or treat” are the cheaper ones. Another thing that I learn from this ad: I didn’t realize that the “mini” size candy bars were available so early. Packaging for trick or treat that I have seen from the 1950s typically is something closer to what we would consider a full size serving.

I also notice that for the party candies, “butter cream corn” is at the top of the list. I’m finding newspaper ads for Halloween including what we call candy corn as the first item featured for Halloween beginning around the 1930s. We think of candy corn as THE Halloween candy, and it is interesting to trace the history of that association. I’ll publish a more detailed account of candy corn later.

The image of trick or treat in this ad is fascinating. The candies are for “Trick or Treat Callers,” transforming the pranksters and gangsters of the 1930s and 1940s into genteel visitors come to pay their respects. The woman appears the most gracious hostess, offering a plate of delicacies to her diminutive guests. Handing out candy is a way to “be ready to make friends with your little neighbors.” It is as if the trick or treating exchange is to the benefit of the hostess, who is implicitly worried about making a good impression on the neighbors.

Related Posts:

October 15, 2010 at 10:23 am 4 comments

Whither Halloween Candy?

Jack-o'-lantern bucket filled with Halloween candy

I say Halloween, you say… candy, right?

It seems pretty obvious. Look at all that Halloween candy lining the shelves down at the CVS!

But back in first half of the twentieth century, there was no such thing as “Halloween candy.” Candy was big at Christmas and Easter, but Halloween wasn’t on the candy calendar at all.

Today the association of Halloween and candy seems natural, inevitable. But 100 years ago, there were many holidays that were equally un-candified. Christmas was the first, most “natural” candy holiday; it was an easy leap from oranges and cakes to candy sticks and chocolate boxes. The candy trade didn’t have to do much more than put their product out there. But other candy holidays were made, not born. The first candy promotion holiday success was Easter. Candy makers emphasized molded candies for the holiday, most of which look just like the Easter candies of today: bunnies, chicks, eggs. But in the days before trick or treat (which was not popularized until the late 1940s), there wasn’t an obvious use or demand for candy at Halloween, or at any other holiday for that matter. If candy sellers noted Halloween at all, it was as a theme for window displays which changed every month with the seasons.

In the years around the first World War, modern ideas of promotion and advertising became increasingly important in the candy business (as in all other businesses). It was obvious that holiday tie-ins could sell candy, but candy boosters in the 1920s were just as likely to aim for Washington’s Birthday, St. Patrick’s Day or the 4th of July as likely candy holiday contenders.

Candy visionaries like V.L. Price, former executive secretary of the National Confectioners Association, urged a full-bore assault on Halloween in a speech he gave at the NCA convention in 1922:

Have you any doubt, if manufacturers would create special “Hallowe’en Candies” and retailers in large numbers would feature special displays and sales on Hallowe’en, but that it would greatly increase candy sales on that day, and in doing it, would eventually make Hallowe’en a candy season.

Price pretty much nailed it, but he was way ahead of his time. It would be more than 30 years before Price’s vision of “Halloween Candies” would really take off in the late 1950s.

So what changed? Trick or treat seems an obvious source of Halloween candy demand. But the earliest trick or treaters in the 1940s and 1950s didn’t expect candy. They got all kinds of stuff: nuts, fruit, coins, ice cream, cakes and cookies, novelties and toys. Candy was also a possibility, but way down the list.

It took many years for candy to become the “treat” of choice. Why? Impossible to give a single easy answer, but here are some of the influences. These first few are about the accidents of history, about how candy distinguished itself from the other possible treats:

  • Convenience. Candy came pre-portioned and pre-wrapped. Even in the 1950s, it would have been easier to give away Hershey bars than to bake cookies or wrap pop-corn balls. For a while, the cereal companies promoted single size boxes as trick or treat, for the same reason.
  • Marketing. Beginning in the mid 1950s, candy companies were pushing candy for trick or treat. New candy products were developed for the holiday, especially the mini-sized bars and small bags of loose candy like candy corn marketed especially for trick or treat. Over the decades, marketing and packaging for Trick or Treat became a bigger and bigger factor.
  • Candy as a controlled substance. This one is a little more mushy, but I wonder if part of the reason candy became the exclusive treat for Halloween isn’t because kids were getting less candy at other times. Increasing parental control and new ideas about health made kids in the 1970s much less likely to have independent access to candy than kids in the 1950s. So the candy debauch of Halloween became extra important.
  • Halloween sadists: the razor blade in the apple. The fear that kids might be harmed by malevolent strangers was probably the factor that sealed the fate of candy at Halloween. If there was a possibility of poison or needles or razor blades being added to cookie doughs and apples, the only “safe” treat was the one sealed at the factory. Home made and unwrapped treats went straight to the garbage can.

Now that candy so decisively dominates the holiday, specific qualities of candy make it seem to be the “obvious” choice:

  • Gluttony: If you are getting cookies and nuts and being invited in for some nice punch on Halloween, there’s only so much you can eat and it doesn’t hoard very well. In contrast, wrapped candies with long shelf lives  might inspire a more deliberate sort of massing and hoarding. But did kids start getting greedy because candy was being given out? Or were they already greedy, and candy just made it easier? Put another way,  did adults start buying candy to give away because they observed that kids were hoarding, and decided to make it easier? Or did kids start hoarding more when candy came their way?
  • Treatiness. If the treats are sweet, what is sweeter than candy? Surveys indicate that what kids want above all on Halloween is candy.

A recent development suggests that candy’s vice hold on Halloween may not be so tight, at least so far as the adults who purchase the lion’s share of the treats are concerned. I’ve been noticing in the past couple of years more and more alternative snacks packaged as Halloween give-outs: little pouches of pretzels, mini Oreos (with orange filling), Rice Krispie Treats, and even pop corn balls. More and more I hear of people deciding to give out other pre-packaged kiddie snack items like juice boxes or single-serve potato chips. And this year the California Milk Processors are urging parents to give out chocolate milk instead of chocolate candy.

All of which hearkens back to the earliest times of trick or treat, when treats could be quite various.  The difference of course is that back in the 1940s Mrs. Johnson might give out cakes or cookies that she had baked that afternoon. And if Mrs. Johnson was handing out nuts or raisins, they were loose and unwrapped. Today Ms Johnson is buying factory-sealed, shelf-stable, brand name versions of all manner of snackables. And she’s buying them because she just doesn’t feel right about handing out candy. Are the kid’s preferences changing too? I’m not sure.

It’s not just Halloween that seems to be shifting into a different candy key. Candy companies are diversifying into “healthy alternatives” as fast as they can. Does this mean we’ll be done with candy soon, having triumphantly moved into the Age of the Turnip? No. We’ll still have candy. It will just be called something else. There’s always something new under the mylar-wrapped sun.

Related post:

Candies For Trick or Treat in the 1950s

October 14, 2010 at 10:58 am 10 comments

Candy Confetti

An international candy fact: those sweets we call “Jordan Almonds” are known in Italian as “confetti.”

Confetti? Isn’t that the sparkly paper we throw around at weddings and birthdays?

Turns out this strange connection between almonds with colorful sugar shells and shredded paper is no coincidence.

“Comfits” is the general name given in English for the class of sweets made by panning sugar. Before machine made candies like M&Ms and jelly beans in the 20th century, comfits were a luxury item because sugar was expensive, and because the process for building up the sugar coating was laborious. A comfit would be a hard sugar shell that you could suck on, and usually at the center would be a small anise seed, grain of cinnamon, ginger, or any kind of seed or nut. Today’s jaw breakers are basically comfits built up on a grain of sugar rather than a seed.

In Europe in the 16th and 17th century, comfits became associated with parties, festivities, and banquets. If you were in the upper classes who could afford such goods, you would surely have sugared nuts or seeds at your celebrations.

In Italy, those nut comfits were called by a name that sounds a lot like comfit: confetti. If you listen, you can hear it’s really the same word. The famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described one Italian banquet he witnessed in the 18th century:

Now and then a masked fair lady mischievously flings some sugar-coated almonds at her passing friend to attract his attention… But the real sugared confetti is expensive, so a cheaper substitute must be provided for this kind of petty warfare, and there are traders who specialize in plaster bonbons…


Throwing around confetti–those sugar coated almonds or their fake plaster substitutes–evolved into our own festive practice of throwing around paper confetti. Although, since paper is not so tasty at the meal, we tend to throw paper confetti at non-meal festivities.

But we still do have one edible relic of the candy comfit associated with celebrations. What are those little colored candy sprinkles we put on cakes, especially children’s birthday cakes? There usually called “sprinkles,” (the long ones are “Jimmies” and the balls “non-pareils”), but they are obviously nothing other than candy confetti!

Source: The story of confetti is told in Laura Mason, Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (1998). Image: “Assorted Jordan Almonds” by Nutsinbulk on Flikr

April 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm Leave a comment

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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.

(C) Samira Kawash

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