Candy (Holiday, December 1951)
Apologies for the lapse in time between posts. Holiday season and the day job have been keeping me quite busy, but I wanted to share this article from the December 1951 issues of Holiday magazine (a really wonderful travel magazine). This article focuses on confections and also makes mention of a magazine I've never heard of before called St. Nicholas, a children's magazine that I may be looking closer into for the future. Enjoy! Happy holidays to all and a joyous new year!
If boy meets girl as Christmas nears, his safest, surest weapon of courtship is a box of...
by Virginia Swain
Every time anybody gave me a penny for candy, when I was a child, I went down to Higgins' grocery store. The importance of these first independent purchases of our lives must have been clear to Mr. Higgins, for he would wait patiently for many minutes with a green-and-purple-striped paper bag in one hand and a little shovel in the other, while we debated whether the sharp, fleeting sweetness of the sugared almonds we called "mothballs" was a better value than the more durable but less exciting chewiness of gumdrops. We girls usually plumped for the "mothballs" or candy corn or cone-shaped chocolate drops. The boys chose suckers or butterscotch or jawbreakers - hard round things a little larger than a marble, black with licorice on the outside, with pink and white layers inside, which you sucked slowly, right to the caraway see (or sometimes a nut) in the center.
Then there were shoelaces and whips and buttons and tiny dolls of licorice, Fat Emmas and coconut kisses, caramels and taffy and sometimes even opera creams, those luscious scored slabs of rich vanilla fudge known to an earlier generation as Chantilly, one of the many specialties of Philadelphia candymakers.
But whether the candies came from Philadelphia or New York, the biggest producers of those days, or from Chicago, which has since outstripped them, they were for sale from coast to coast. My husband, in an Iowa town with a population of 800, stole from the candy counter in his father's general store the same varieties of candy I bought in a city of a quarter of a million people.
Being a male, he knows the mileage of the hard candies better than I do - he claims to have counted the licks in a jawbreaker and to have timed the all-day sucker. "You could make it last three hours if you rested some," he says, "but with steady sucking it would be gone in fifteen minutes." Youthful researchers of today claim only ten minutes for the sucker, so it may be that my husband's memory is confused by the years - or it may be that the lollypop was tougher then than it is now.
In the Missouri of my youth, before the days of refrigerated factories, trucks and showcases, candy eating was rigidly controlled by the calendar.
After the candy canes of Christmas and the bonbons of Valentine's Day and the chocolate eggs of Easter, summer cam in with a roar of hot wind out of Kansas. From then until fall, Mr. Higgins' candy counter held only dry, starchy white minds, hardly sweet at all, and sour balls, and a few leftover licorice whips, tightly stuck together.
Neither could we make candy at home in hot weather - it always failed. It seems never to have occurred to our mothers, who knew that jelly would not "set" in sticky weather, that humidity also accounted for what happened to our fudge. For that matter, nobody who ever made fudge is surprised at anything that happens to it. It is at once America's favorite homemade candy, and the most difficult to make. A fudge maker of forty years' experience once said to me, "The hardest thing in the world to achieve is a perfect batch of fudge. Even now a batch disappoints me once in a while."
We were not such perfectionists in a Kansas City in 1910. We waited all summer for the opening of fudge season, that October day when the squirrels began to forage in our hickory tree. No good Missourian would use hickory nuts in fudge, but would use hickory nuts in fudge, but when the hickories were ripe in our yard, we knew that, out in the country, the black walnuts were ripe too.
From the time we got the walnuts home till we husked and cracked them (only a hammer would do it), and picked out the meats, we had to fight the squirrels, which also prefer them to hickory nuts. One fall they gnawed through the screening of our back porch and stole two entire bushels, so that we had to get along with pecans in that winter's fudge making. But the next spring there were small, insolent black walnut trees coming up between the General Jack roses and the Marechal Niels. The squirrels had buried some of their loot in my mother's rose garden.
Everything seemed against us. The squirrels stole our walnuts; my father opposed fudge making because (1) we would eat too much, and (2) it would spoil our appetites for meals.
There were fourteen in our fudge gang, thirteen boys and I. One of the boys was Jack Sherwood, the best fudge maker I have ever known. He actually had a candy thermometer, but when his practiced eye disagreed with it, he would lay it, very sticky, on the table and finish the sticky, on the table and finish the fudge by instinct. Normally an amiable, studious boy, in the kitchen he became an impresario, a tyrant and a terror.
I, being only a female, was allowed to wash the pots, but never to touch the candy kettle while the syrup boiled. Once, when I ventured to stir it, Jack chased me into the back yard, found the wheelbarrow in which I had hidden, and tipped me from the barrow headfirst into our garbage can.
Still his fudge was excellent, and if aptitude tests had existed in those days, Jack Sherwood would have been the fudge king of America, instead of what he is - a stockbroker in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Taffy we could make only when my father was out, for the operations was certain to leave no square inch of the kitchen unsticky, not even the chair backs for we lassoed them with ropes of warm brown molasses and pulled against them.
Toward Christmas, my mother would bring out the marble slab. It was the top from an old Victorian dressing table, and it was the foundation on which - for me, at least - the joy of Christmas rested. On it we kneaded fondant to stuff dates and figs, to make patties and kisses and centers for chocolate creams.
We sat up late on Christmas Eve packing the candy into the prettiest boxes hoarded through the year, and on Christmas morning I ran around the neighborhood delivering them to friends, while other children ran to our house, bringing the same kinds of candy. That was splendid, I thought. We came out even.
Inevitably there comes a day when boys stop throwing you in garbage cans and begin to send you candy. There must have been some kind of time lag in Missouri, for in the year when F. Scott Fitzgerald's college friends were wooing their girls with bootleg gin, I set off on the Wabash for the University at Columbia armed with nothing more lethal than a five-pound box of Josephines, those incomparable large chocolates that sold not by the pound but for five cents apiece at Emery Bird's - an a copy of Crime and Punishment. Whether because of Dostoevski (sic) or because I was leaving the Josephine-sender behind, I arrived at college dissolved in homesick gloom.
The Josephines kept coming every week and every time they came I cried and considered leaving school forever, while the female vultures in the dormitory ate most of them. But luckily for my chances of a higher education, the Josephine beau and I quarreled at Thanksgiving, and I cheered up and began to look around.
Then I met Andrew, a youth in the School of Education, with spectacles, an urge toward culture, and an ambition to make a Christian of me. He was, in short, the kind of Andrew who had never been and never would be called "Andy." On my birthday he brought me a Greek Testament and as sop to the flesh and the devil, a roll of candy wafers, dry, powdery, pale in color. The wafers cost ten cents, but the Testament cost two dollars and a half.
It was, I suppose, what J.B. Priestley would call a "Dangerous Corner." If Andrew had spent two dollars and sixty cents for Josephines I might be the wife of a high-school principal in some Ozark town - or I might by now have murdered Andrew and been hanged.
Cynics given to tut-tutting about the younger generation may thing that boys no longer take candy to girls in 1951, that only the orchid or the bottle of Scotch will do. The fact is that candy is still by far the most popular courtship weapon.
Nearly any American accustomed to having the most of everything would say, if questioned, "Yes, America eats more candy than any other nation." But he would be wrong. Though the candy business in the United States reached the billion-dollar mark at the wholesale level in the peak year or 1948, the British eat proportionately more than we do, about nineteen and a half pounds per capita a year, to our eighteen.
Neither did we invent candy, nor even develop many new types. Modern candy, as opposed to the sugared fruits and nuts that go as far back as the ancient Egyptians and the Aztecs, is European. Germany had marzipan and the French seem to have invented the Jordan almond. In Italy people wore masks to carnivals because "confetti" was just what the word indicates - small hard sugarplums that could easily black an eye when accurately aimed.
But it was in 19th-Century England that candy as we know it was first made. The year 1951 is in fact the centennial of modern candy, for it was Prince Albert's Great Exhibition in London in 1851 that introduced confectioners of other countries, including the United States, to bonbons, chocolate creams, "boiled sweets" (hard candies), caramels and nearly every other kind sold in America today, except those that depend on indigenous American materials.
New England began to pull taffy as soon as the first ship came in with molasses from the West Indies.
The first almond pralines were made over two hundred years ago in France fir the Duc de Praslin, but the New Orleans praline is a new and wonderful concoction, thanks to the subtle pecan - though not so wonderful, to a Missourian's mind, as the creamier Ozark praline, rich and racy with black walnuts.
Peanut brittle is said to have been a purely American accident, and there are several stories concerning it. One is that, around 1890, a New England woman was making peanut taffy in her kitchen, surrounded by rows of bottles and cans, none of them labeled.. The sweet-smelling sirup was bubbling on the stove when suddenly she realized she had failed to add cream of tartar, without which the substance would not harden into taffy. In her haste, she grabbed the wrong bottle - and added baking soda. The candy turned harder than ever before - and the result was peanut brittle.
Fudge was merely a batch of Philadelphia caramels gone wrong. The head cook in the candy kitchen, tasting the finely crystallized, "short," nonchewy substance, cried "Fudge! Nonsense! Bah!" and thereby put a new and magic word into American candy cookbooks.
In general children like candy sweeter than adults do, and city people want subtler and less-sweet flavors than country dwellers.
There are riddles in the candy map that nobody can answer. Why do large cities dislike cinnamon, while smaller towns and rural districts crave it? Why does coffee flavor please New York State, while the Midwest dislikes it? Sometimes salesmen find that the taste line runs between neighboring towns as straight as if drawn with a ruler.
The American candy eater, like other spoiled children, knows what he wants - and gets it; and he wants much the same things from the cradle to the grave. That is why children really rule the candy market.
All candy experts agree that you can't fool the taste buds of children - they will detect an inferior flavor or texture at the first bite. Many candy makers use children as tasters. There is a fortunate band of Boy Scouts on Long Island that serves in this capacity, not huffing and puffing and rinsing the mouth between bites, as the august wine and tea tasters do, but by eating at will from the boxes spread on a table before a Scout meeting. The boxes soonest emptied are the ones that held the best candy; it is as simple and as infallible as that.
When middle-aged people ask, "Whatever became of candy corn or Red Hots or jaw breakers or cotton candy?" it only shows that they have not been shopping lately in the right places. All the old-time favorites are still for sale in grocery stores, drug stores, tiny shops near schools, not from open wooden tubs, to be sure - but even a reactionary can hardly complain of cellophane between the all-day sucker and the fly. As for cotton candy, all you have to do to find it is to go once more to a circus or a carnival or a fair.
The First World War brought about the greatest revolution in candy of the 20th Century, the spectacular rise and spread of the candy bar in popularity to a point where one milk-chocolate company uses the milk of 50,000 cows to make its bars. In that war the High Command was chiefly concerned with furnishing food energy in compact form to men in action far from the field kitchens.
By 1941, the practical psychologists of the Army knew that a soldier needs sweets not only for food but for courage, consolation, and relief from boredom.
The American soldier ate three or four times as much candy as the civilian; and in outposts the ratio was five or six to one. It was even higher in the Air Force, where the men were very young and constantly strung up nervously to a dangerous job.
Because the quartermaster department knew that likes and dislikes prevail, even in a war, there appeared on beachheads and battlefields just after action a strange company of uniformed men who seemed to be doing an exhaustive job of scavenging. One colonel hit the beach on Hollandia in the second landing wave and, with a small detachment, began to pick up litter from the sand, to the utter mystification of combat GI's thereabouts. The colonel and his men were from the Quartermaster Corps, and they found that quantities of every item in the foodpacks had been discarded except candy.
One highly successful candy project originated in the sympathetic and impulsive minds of fliers in the Air Lift. The handkerchief-parachutes that carried small bags of candy down to sweets-starved Berlin in "Operation Little Vittles" brought from Soviet authorities howls of rage that might have greeted block busters.
During the war civilians wanted more candy than usual because they were worried and physically tired. In England sweets were one of the first food items that they rationed and the confectioners had even longer queues than the tobacconists.
There has been some effort to establish a universal code of candy-packing, by which the shape of the piece or the last swirl on top of the chocolate would describe the center. But progress has been limited to a few generally used shapes (in certain areas) and swirls. It is impressive to watch the mammoth machines called enrobers put this delicate design on chocolates, but to see them inscribed by human dippers wearing rubber gloves is still more awe-inspiring to anyone who has ever tried to wash dishes in them. The hand-dipped chocolate is going the way of other products requiring expensive labor, either out of the picture or up in price. But it still exists for the diehards, who are willing to pay for it.
Candy fads come and go - the trade expects one every five years. Lately there has been a vogue for "miniature" chocolates.
Television and canasta, though they are worrying Hollywood and the book publishers, have set up a boom in candy. There are "television assortments" that can easily be picked up in the dark, and when chewed do not compete with the sound effects of the entertainment. Canasta assortments are composed of bite-size pieces with polished or dragée surfaces, to protect the cards from stickiness.
To one who grew up on the innocent barbarities of the Grimm Brothers and first danced to radio music at her Junior Prom, it is an eerie experience to go into a darkened room at the children's hour, where the monstrous shadows of Kukla and Ollie and assorted desperadoes jig across a screen, to the sound of shrieks, guffaws, crashes and the rattle of machine guns - noises that would have sent us all into hysterics in 1912. The calm silence of the audience is even eerier. But finally, when your eyes adjust to darkness and you see the candy box being passed from ahnd to hand, you know that this is still the earth and not Mars, and remember that we, too, ate candy before the magic lantern.
When the crashes and shrieks die down and the lights go on, there is still an Esperanto for the younger generation. You can say, "Have a caramel," or "Let's make fudge."
My husband says he knows how to make fudge: "First you cook it, then cool it and beat it. It doesn't 'set.' Then you put it back on the stove and cook it some more and it gets hard as a rock. Then you add some water and cook it, and it 'sets' all right, but it sugars. Then you throw it away and send your husband out to buy a box of candy."
Maybe it's difficult to make each batch uniform, but I know one candy cook who never has a failure, from fudge to chocolate creams and candy canes. She is Winifred Crego, a neighbor of ours in Washington, Connecticut. Even my husband begins in November to hint to Winnie that he likes caramels for Christmas.
Her advice is:
1. If you are a beginner, stick to divinity, taffy, caramels and nut brittles.
2. Choose a dry, bright day for candymaking.
3. Stir the sirup till the sugar is dissolved, and during this stage wipe down the inside walls of the kettle with a fork wrapped in damp cloth to prevent crystals from forming on the pot.
4. Use a high-quality mercury thermometer and check its accuracy. At sea level, water boils at 212°; for every 1000 feet of altitude, at two degrees less.
5. Don't make substitutions, as of milk and butter for cream. Natural cream has some kind of balance not to be reproduced by juggling. (Professional candy chemists agree.)
In clearing out the Kansas City attic after my mother's death, I found a tattered loose-leaf notebook lying on top of a stack of ten years' unbound copies of St. Nicholas. I knew suddenly over a gap of forty years that I could open the yellowed magazines and be in the enchanted world of Arthur Rackham's drawings, in Racketty-Packetty House! or in Sarah Crewe's magic garret.
But in the notebook were all the Christmases of long ago, for this was my mother's candy cookbook, unused. I fear, since I left home in 1923. The first recipe was for Christmas Pralines, the hybrid pralines of Missouri, where the French stayed long enough to leave jasmine clinging to the Kansas City bluffs, where the Deep South met the Yankee North at an uneasy, shifting border line still discernible in the politics, customs and cookery o the place; where pecans do not grow, but the imperial black walnut flourishes. It would take a die-hard New Orleanian not to say these are the best pralines of all:
(This recipe makes about 12 medium sized pralines)
In a saucepan, combine:
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
Cook, stirring constantly, to 236° F., or to slightly under the soft-ball stage.
Add: ½ pound black-walnut meats
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Let cool to lukewarm (110-112° F.). Beat until creamy but still soft. Drop in mounds on a heavily buttered baking sheet. When the pralines are cold, wrap each in waxed paper.
Chantilly Cream Squares came next, to my delight. It is hard to buy them any more, except, perhaps, in Philadelphia; and they are one of the best of native American candies:
Chantilly Cream Squares
In a saucepan, combine:
2 cups sugar
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons light corn sirup
⅛ teaspoon salt
Place over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, to 238° F., or the soft-ball stage. Cool.
Add: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat until creamy.
Add: ½ cup pecan halves
½ cup walnut meats
Pour quickly into shallow buttered pan, approximately 11" x 7" x 1½". When the candy s cold, cut it in squares. (In a tight box, this candy will improve with age.) Sometimes we added 1½ squares of bitter chocolate, melted in the first mixture, but the classic Chantilly Cream is ivory colored and flavored with vanilla.)
A favorite that could be made ahead of time and would keep well till Christmas was:
Chocolate-Topped Butter Crunch
(This recipe makes about 12 pieces).
In a saucepan, melt:
1 cup butter
Remove from heat and blend in:
1 cup sugar
Replace on heat and when the mixture begins to bubble, add:
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn sirup
Cook, stirring frequently, to 290° F. (the hard crack stage). Remove from heat at once.
Quickly stir in:
¾ cup nutmeats (Brazils, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts or unblanched almonds)
Pour on lightly buttered baking sheet and cool, loosening the candy from time to time with a spatula.
In saucepan, melt: 4 squares bitter or semisweet chocolate.
Spread half of the melted chocolate evenly over nut brittle. Replace remaining chocolate evenly over nut brittle. Replace remaining chocolate over low heat. Leave brittle until the chocolate is firm. Then, with a broad spatula, turn the brittle over and spread its other side with the remaining melted chocolate. When the second layer of chocolate is firm, break the candy in pieces and store it in a covered tin or jar in a cool place.
In the quiet world before Kaiser Wilhelm's War, we had plenty of time to make our Christmas candies, and also we had old Victorian tables, to give us marble slabs for candymaking. I shut the notebook and sat still on the dusty floor, leaning on the stacked copies of St. Nicholas. I thought about my mother's sense of order. The candy-marble ought to be here with the candy cookbook. As I started to look for it, the magazines slipped, and there it was, wrapped in brown paper.
I tore off the paper and looked at the marble, and I saw it covered with rows of glossy bonbons, pralines, butter crunch and patties - citron, silver-shot and all. And the attic was full of the smell of bubbling chocolate and freshly grated coconut.
I brought it back with me to Connecticut, to the despair of many redcaps. Every house needs a candy-marble in the attic.