The candy man can, or the candy woman. I was in my glory a few weeks ago when I spent 2 1/2 delectable days at the Sweets and Snacks Expo at McCormick Place. It was a smorgasbord of colors, tastes, and treats that could have easily caused a 5-pound weight gain. I managed to avoid this malady due to all the walking at the convention as well as back and forth to the train station. As a lifelong candy addict, this amazing expo sent me into a sweet-tooth stratosphere. I was delighted to find tried and true candy favorites, discover wonderful new companies, and meet passionate candymakers that rivaled Willy Wonka with their unbridled enthusiasm. One of the secrets I uncovered is that the behemoth companies such as Wrigley (part of Mars since 2008), Kraft, Mars, Nutella, Ferrara Pan, and Hershey’s were incredibly stingy in giving away product samples. Wrigley was giving away diminutive packets of gum that were new on the market – kind of cool, but with just 6 pieces of gum, a rip-off at the suggested retail price of 69 cents. Necco was an exception to this rule and had full-size rolls for the taking. Many of the smaller companies were very generous and gave away full-size products if you asked nicely.
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.