How to Feast…on Candy: The non-sugarcoated history

Bequet Celtic Sea Salt Caramel

Similar to early consumers of coca-cola, candy has historically induced an addict’s response to its sugary goodness, as if it too were made of crack. Those were the good old days, when liquid cocaine was sold at soda fountains and a child could go to her neighborhood candy shop to spend her weekly penny on her favorite pieces.

Sadly, after World War II, candy began to be cheapened – in all senses of the word – just like other American foods. Instead of being an occasional treat, an outing, if you will, candy went the way of homemade cookies and cakes: produced in a mass factory, put into a bag or box, and advertised almost to its demise, at least among all self-respecting people. Advertisements, TV commercials and vending machines fueled the hyper-happy candy invasion which fostered the beginning of candy’s satanic reputation among the health conscious, as compared to the naughty-but-nice persona of previous decades.

To be fair, I grew up in this age of artificial flavorings, and loved it. Even though my family didn’t celebrate Halloween, I still managed to hoard my favorites around this time of year, like every other normal American child of the 1990s. Blue-wrapped vanilla Tootsie Rolls, rectangular Sugar Daddies and wee Bit-O-Honey; glittery Ring Pops, Milk Maid Caramels and rolls of Life Savers; Warheads and Airheads and do you remember that gross sugar gel? (Amusingly, I use to use it as dental fluoride when playing “dentist.”) Of course I also knew that Pez and Pop Rocks topped the hierarchy of peer-envy. Man, if you had Pop Rocks.

But since then I have seen a little of both sides of this tension. Although I must confess that I ran a successful candy shop out of my closet for years, selling to desperate siblings and neighborhood kids. In later years I turned renegade and munched Kashi granola bars while other college students crammed for exams with Nerds and Runts.

Yet as I continue to mature past complete denial and pure indulgence, so does the American candy psyche. A less heralded segment of the local food/slow food movement is the craftsmen-driven sweet shop. Think shelves lined with glass jars containing miniature beads of candy and boxes of individually wrapped goodies. Yes, we definitely should continue to steer away from the syrupy, high fructose, chipper packages of our youth. We’re not in Candy Land, after all. But now it’s also time to renounce our status as voluntary diabetics and rediscover the simple goodness of candy.

This mostly involves applying the same rules that we now use to choose our veggies and eggs, meat and milk. That is, choose: smaller producers, quality ingredients, and a nuance of tastes (i.e. you should enjoy other flavors blended with the sugar).  Here are some of my favorites; bought piece by piece, they foster the unique delight of an actual treat.

Béquet Caramels: These American-made caramels have developed a cult following. Feast has just added to our repertoire, too: Hello, Soft Vanilla Butter Caramels!

Kubli French candies: The citron (lemon) lollipops and fraise (strawberry) candy sticks are my favorite among these hard candies. Yum.

On that note, bring your children to Feast! anytime this Saturday, 30 October 2010 to trick-or-treat for a lollipop (no tricks please).

Thank you to the Candy Professor for her valuable research in this under-explored subject.

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