I blame my dad – but all of my dentists can thank him. My lifelong love affair with candy began when I was just a youngin, thanks to my dad’s unique love for sweets. I say unique because back in the 1960s when there were no gourmet candy shops in Chicago, my dad would order bountiful amounts of gourmet candy from Russ and Daughters on his annual December business trip to New York City. Among his favorite candies were pastel-colored chocolate lentils and dark chocolate covered raspberry jelly rings . I visited Russ and Daughters the last time I was in NYC and they carry very little candy now. My personal choice for an awesome array of candy in the Big Apple is Economy Candy.
I must say we had the best candy in our house when I was growing up. One year my dad ordered a gingerbread house kit complete with gumdrops from B. Shackman Company. Before my sisters and I finished making this wonder, it became infested with ants and my mom had to toss it.
My dad told us stories about growing up dirt poor in Brooklyn and saving money so he could buy a broken candy bar for 2 cents at the corner store – he couldn’t afford the whole bars. He certainly made up for this over the years, buying high-end gourmet chocolate from near and far at candy makers/shops including Bendick’s, Fortnum and Mason, Bissinger’s, and a now defunct Ma and Pa candy shop in Chicago called Martha’s Candies. He really didn’t care much for Frango Mints or Fanny May, but would reluctantly eat them if bought as a gift.
Candy provided solace when growing up – my dad was generous with the sweets, but had a very hot temper, was tyrannical and judgemental. I admit that I used candy to feel better, but along the way I actually developed a love affair and knowledge about dark chocolate and candy which I attribute to my dad. Like him, my candy tastes are eclectic – spanning from cheap candy to dark chocolate that goes for $30 per pound and up! My reverence for sweets led to a project I did for a class while at RISD on the history of candy. It also led to sniffing out and enjoying candy references over the years – in movies, celebrity connections, games, etc., a few of which are noted at the end of this article.
Growing up, I too had a beloved corner store – The North Shore Food Mart in Lincolnwood, where I bought candy at least once a week. My mom would let me return glass Diet Rite bottles and keep the bottle refund (2 cents per bottle). I immediately bought penny candy or saved up to buy full candy bars. My favorites were Slo-Pokes, Bazooka Gum, Chuckles, Clark Bars, Goetze’s Bulls-Eyes, Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, Jaw Busters, and last but not least – giant SweeTarts. And I am not talking about the much smaller chewy ones available now – really poor substitute for the solid, enormous ones available in the 1960s-1970s. Much to my surprise, when I met Jeff, we shared our fond memories of eating the giant SweeTarts and developing sore tongues as a result. We discovered that we ate them the same way – scraping off one layer at a time with our front teeth! We have talked about starting a campaign to bring back the original giant SweeTart – leave a comment if you are interested.
I dabbled a little bit in candy making as a kid, but it was more about the cool toy than the results. My parents bought me Incredible Edibles by Mattel – a funky-looking product by the makers of Creepy Crawlers. The end result tasted pretty bad, but the candy making process was a lot of fun. When I was little, my favorite board game was Candy Land – the newer versions don’t have the realistic candy graphics.
My older sister and I would engage in candy games while riding the Pace Bus together from Lincolnwood to Downtown Chicago in the late 1960s. We would see how long a single, small-size Atomic Fireball or Jaw Buster could last in our mouths, resorting to tactics like storing it on the side of our gums or cheek – she was an overachiever and didn’t like when I won. Another game involved placing one of these candies at the back of the bus and watching as it rolled forward and back as the bus moved and stopped. In retrospect, this was irresponsible – if somebody had tripped on it, that would not have been funny.
As a young adult, when I worked at Bronson Coles Photography Studios at the Lincoln Village Mall, my coworker and friend Merle turned me on to Jujubes and Choward’s Violet Mints. She told me that they were a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth, but relatively low in calories if you could eat just a couple. I tried eating just a few Jujubes, but my candy eating restraint tactics rarely lasted. To this day, I still love Jujubes and have a t-shirt that Jeff bought me and a few unopened boxes stored in the cupboard. As for the violet mints, they are a very uncommon and acquired taste – and indeed, you cannot gobble them so a pack lasts for weeks.
When I lived in the Netherlands in the early 1980s, I really got into Dutch licorice or drop, as they call it. Oddly, licorice is a candy that I only liked in the strawberry variety (not true licorice) as a child. I especially liked the strawberry laces that are no longer on grocery store shelves but available online. If you are a true licorice aficionado, you haven’t experienced anything until you have sampled the incredible varieties of Dutch licorice. There is something for everyone’s taste – from sweet to triple salt. My favorites are Griotten and Salmiak, but I find that I need to eat these in moderation because they can definitely cause a belly ache. Jeff and I both adore Snaps – they have a fragrant licorice taste and texture that is truly unique.
My candy tastes have evolved over the years, although there are still a few candies from my childhood that have endured in my heart – Chuckles, Goetze’s Bulls-Eyes, Necco Wafers, and Jaw Busters. When Jeff and I met nearly 14 years ago, we discovered that we had a lot in common, but one of the sweetest delights was finding out that our candy tastes were so similar. I cannot indulge the same way I did as a child or else middle-age spread would set in – my vanity and concern about my health prevents totally pigging out on candy. While I could easily give up pastries, cookies, cake, and ice cream and actually rarely partake … candy is in my blood.
Candy Connections – Movies and TV
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Dragnet – The Candy Store Robberies
- ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
- Forrest Gump
- I Love Lucy – Job Switching
- Seinfeld – the Junior Mint
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
- Justin Bieber – Sour Patch Kids
- Megan Fox – Pez
- Michael J. Fox – Circus Peanuts
- Ryan Gosling – Kazoozles, Nerds Ropes, Hi-Chew, Haribo, Bonkers
- Tom Hanks – Boston Baked Beans
- Ronald Reagan – Jelly Beans
- Robin Williams – Bazooka Gum
- Serena Williams – Laffy Taffy