Posts tagged ‘adulteration’

Ye Olde Poison Candy

Baby and open cupboard with toxic products

In the early years of the twentieth century, as today, children seemed vulnerable. They ate a lot of candy. Bad candy.  Penny candies in particular were blamed for endangering children’s health with “adulterants,” non-food ingrediants including such alarming substances as furniture glue, coal tar, and all sorts of chemicals, that were clearly not meant for human consumption.

It was obvious to every one in the 1900s that candy was dangerous. Or was it?

In New York City in 1899, three year old Robert Wilkerson and his five year old sister Lucy fell ill, supposedly as a result of eating poisoned candy. The boy died, but a doctor who examined Lucy “thought the symptoms were more like meningitis than poisoning.”

Two years later, the parents of two children who died blamed “candy, apples and sour milk.” The doctor had a different explaination:  “meningitis, resulting from ptomaine poisoning.”

In 1906, the Times reported the announcement of the examining coroner who concluded that the death of a ten year old girl, Christina Klewin, “of what was supposed to be candy poisoning, was a victim of spinal meningitis.”

And in 1914, after New York papers charged that seven year old Willie Oppenland had been killed by poison color adulterants in his candy, an autopsy revealed that he had in fact died of cerebro-spinal meningitis.

The candy industry would spend huge amounts of money trying to combat the notion that there was something unwholesome about candy itself. The National Confectioners Association (NCA), the main candy trade group, was organized in the late 1800s with the primary goal of refuting accusations of candy adulteration and encouraging better manufacturing practices to raise the standards of the trade. Each report of “candy poisoning” was met with aggressive investigation and in most cases, alternative explanations ranging from overeating to deliberate attempts at murder.

So far in my research, I have not encountered a single credible case of illness or death caused by shoddy or criminal candy manufacture. But that didn’t mean candy couldn’t be a killer. Here’s another version of the candy poisoning tale, this one from 1913:

Dying from hailstones he had eaten, thinking them candy, a five-year-old boy Luther Quinn, met with an unfortunate end at South Orange NJ recently. The boy went outdoors after a storm and gathered hailstones. They looked so much like candy that we was tempted to eat them. [He died two days later due to indigestion] caused by the sudden and violent chilling of the hailstones.

Related Posts:

  • Glue-cose
  • Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating
  • Sources: “Two Children Poisoned,” New York Times 24 February 1899; “Another Kruger Child Dead,” New York Times 10 January 1901; “Meningitis, Not Candy Poisoning,”  New York Times 9 March 1906; “Poison Candy Charges Fail,” International Confectioner March 1914, p. 42; “Blame it on Candy,” Confectioners Journal May 1913, p. 71.

    January 11, 2010 at 7:13 am 1 comment

    Home Made vs. Store Bought Candy

    It would seem to follow that more expensive candies are better candies. Better ingredients, more care, higher quality, all adds up to higher price.

    For candy buyers in the nineteen-teens, worried about food purity and adulteration, expensive candy seemed not only better, but safer. Women’s magazines encouraged housewives to buy only the most expensive sorts of candies for their families. If they couldn’t afford the best, the only safe alternative was to make it at home.

    Professional candy makers laughed at the idea. One remarked,

    Those who are such fools as to suppose they can turn out kitchen stove candy as good as the cheapest sold by any respectable confectioner are soon undeceived. Candy making calls for skill and experience. It is cheap because it is made in large quantities and by the use of machinery.

    Commercial candy had to overcome consumers’ anxieties about new products and new technologies for manufacture. Commercial candy also competed with a nostalgic idea about home made candies. Although candy making was indeed a laborious affair, the work could be made fun, and the product was certainly a pleasure. Taffy pulls, fudge parties, and the like had been popular middle-class entertainments at the turn of the century.

    The candy trade hoped Americans would come to see store-bought candy as an everyday food rather than a luxury for holidays and special events. One enterprising candy poet proposed this little scene to illuminate the new world of candy consumption, circa 1916:

    “’Lasses Candy”

    How ways have changed since dearest Grandma’s time,
    ’In lots and lots of things,’ she says, ’it’s so.’
    When she was young and in her girlhood prime
    Store candy was a luxury, you know.

    ’But,’ she says ’when farmhouse work was done
    And company’d come–just country girls and boys–

    They’d have a candy pull.’ I’ll bet ’twas fun,
    In those old times of simple, homely joys.

    What fun ’twould be, if mother’d only leave
    Me have a ’candy pull,’ like grandma did.
    With boys and girls to come and make believe
    That each was just a jolly country kid!

    But mother’d say: ‘Who put such notions in your mind?
    Don’t let me hear such nonsense anymore.
    I guess, when grandma comes to town, she’ll find
    Much better ’lasses candy at the store.’

    Sources: “Those Silly Sunday Pages,” Confectioners Journal, Feb. 1915, p. 62; “’Lasses Candy,” Confectioners Journal, April 1916, p. 78.

    Related Posts:

  • Candy Cook Books: Where have they Gone?
  • Ye Olde Candy Shoppe
  • October 14, 2009 at 7:14 am 4 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


    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.

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