Candy Freak

Friday, January 16, 2009
Today's book: "Remember Caravelles, Choco-lites, Oopahs, and Marathons? Steve Almond does, but when he couldn't find many of his favorite childhood candies anymore, he embarked on a journey to find them... and discovered the last surviving little-guy candy producers - makers of the Twin Bing, the Idaho Spud, the Valomilk, and a dozen other quirky confections - in an industry now ruled by conglomerates."

I really enjoyed today's book, probably because it allowed me to goof off in between chapters and have conversations with people about shallow things like their favorite childhood candy. And all the while I could feel productive and tell myself, "I'm not wasting time talking about candy, I'm working. This is valuable research for the blog." As it turns out, people love to talk about the candy they enjoyed as children. When I ask them about it, their voices change and they start to wax poetic about the color of the candy wrapper, the store they bought the candy at, how they felt when they ate it, the ingredients it contained and how the candy somehow tasted better when they were kids than it does now. I used to think that last part was just something old people say - but I have recently experienced the disappointment of trying Razzles and thinking to myself, "Did these always taste like chalk?" - so either it isn't confined to old people or I've become old.

Fun facts from the book:

  • The three major chocolate manufacturers (Nestle, Hershey, and Mars) so closely guard their recipes that when outside workers are called in to repair machinery they are blindfolded, taken to the machine in question, and then blindfolded again on the way out.
  • There was once a pineapple flavored Mars bar.
  • In the 1920's there was a candy bar called Vegetable Sandwhich that contained dehydrated vegetable covered in chocolate. It was marketed as a healthy candy bar.

All throughout the book the author talks about his favorite, and least favorite childhood candy, which led to me making my own list.

I'll start with least favorite -

There's really only one thing on my list, a candy so bad that it deserved it's own category. A candy whose awful taste is so burned in my memory that I can't push it aside long enough to even think about the other kinds of candy I disliked. And that candy was bologna gum. Does anyone else remember bologna gum? It came in a package that looked exactly like a regular package of bologna only miniature. I'm guessing you probably don't because it was only on the market for a very short time (for obvious reasons). Well actually, I'm not even sure that it made it onto the market in the first place. My dad owns a grocery store, and every year he would go to the food show and bring home samples of things that we about to hit the market. And one year, when I was about 7, he brought home bologna gum. Common sense should have told me to hesitate about any candy that was patterning itself after a meat product, but I figured that grape gum doesn't actually taste like grapes and strawberry gum doesn't taste like strawberry, so why would bologna gum taste like bologna. But I'm afraid to tell you dear readers that it did taste like bologna - exactly like it. I feel a little sick to my stomach just thinking about it. But all was not lost with the food show samples, because he also brought home giant Oreos. There's nothing like the pure unadulterated joy of an Oreo that's so big you need two hands to hold onto it. The giant Oreo did present its challenges (it was too big to dunk into a glass of milk, and it wasn't a double stuff cookie so the filling to cookie ratio was off), but the upside (being able to say, "But Mom, I only ate one cookie today, why can't I have a second one.") clearly outweighed the disadvantages.

Now for the favorites:

Well, obviously, the aforementioned Razzles, but now that I've tried the "New and Improved" Razzles that love has been tainted.

Jolly Ranchers - The author talks about sucking on hard candy until it became so pliable that he could shape it into a candy retainer. I started to laugh and think to myself, "What a weirdo," until I remembered that I used to do the same thing with Jolly Ranchers. I would then practice talking with the candy retainer in. I wanted to be prepared, just in case I ever needed a real retainer one day.

Candy buttons - My Grandma used to buy those for me at the craft stores she would take me to (I think I may have just cracked the mystery of why I'm so obsessed with craft stores). I liked the taste, but I always found them to be way too much work for the tiny candy return I would get out of it - sort of the candy equivalent of chicken wings. But I still loved how they came on that long strip of paper, so I kept eating them anyway, despite my conviction that "Candy shouldn't be this much work."

Chocolate stars - Another childhood love that has been tainted. Every Friday night my dad would bring home chocolate stars and grape soda and we would eat that while watching TGIF. I think those Friday nights are among my happiest childhood memories. There's nothing more fun than having a dad who owns a grocery store - the junk food supply feels never ending, and sometimes for our birthdays he would take our friends up there and let us play Supermarket Sweep. But now, sadly, the candy has been "improved" and it tastes a bit too much like wax.

And then of course there are the classics: Reese's and Hershey bars. My mother equates food with love - you take that and combine it with a father who owns a grocery store and it produced a childhood that was such a parade of candy bars that it's a miracle my growth wasn't stunted. Although maybe it was - people did always expect me to end up taller than this. My mother handed out candy bars like they were daily vitamins. All we would have to do was say, "I'm kind of in the mood for some chocolate" and she would say, "I've got a Hershey bar, two Reese's, a Peppermint Patty, a Nestle Crunch, and a Dove bar."

So tell me dear readers, what were your favorites and least favorites from childhood?