Sweet tooth leads to candy book

Ever wonder about the history of chocolate, chewing gum, or other confections? One British author shares what he knows about this sweetly enticing topic.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

You might fancy yourself a candy expert just because you happen to know the difference between a Twix and a KitKat.

But do you know where and why the Pez and its wacky dispenser were made? Or how Milk Duds got their name?

Answers to tidbits like these are abundant in "Sweets: A History of Candy" (Bloomsbury, $24.95), by British author Tim Richardson, who happens to be crazy about candy.

Recommended: 16 chocolate chip cookie recipes

(For the record, Pez were created in Austria as a breath freshener for smokers. Milk Duds began as misshapen round balls that were sold anyway as "duds.")

Richardson's book explains how fruit chews and licorice, chocolate and gummy bears came to be – sometimes in extraordinary detail. It's best read with a candy bar or at least a Tic Tac nearby.

In fact, you might eat your entire Halloween stash while perusing its pages, which include glimpses into candy factories and tales of how the first chocolate bars were made in the mid 1800s.

To Richardson, the son of a dentist and the grandson of a toffee-company employee, sweets aren't a food, they're a renegade snack. "I think of them as the anarchists of gastronomy," he said by telephone from London. "They're little rebels against the world of conventional eating because you don't eat them at real meal times. You have them in between times."

And the rules for eating candy are a bit different than they are for, say, mashed potatoes. "With sweets, you can take them out of your mouth and have a look at them in public," he says jokingly. "You don't really do that with other [foods]."

Ancient candy cravings

The first sweet tooth may have belonged to a caveman, as evidence suggests that early humans liked to raid beehives for honey. References to sugar first appeared in writings in India between 2000 BC and 500 BC.

Eventually, it came to be a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern food, and a fascination with things Eastern brought spices and sweets from there to Europe (and later to the rest of the world) in medieval times.

Candied fruits were a popular import, the result of preserving oranges and lemons so they would survive long journeys. Hard candies such as Red Hots were made at that time, too, and are still produced in much the same way in today's factories, Richardson says.

Another favorite was licorice, which dates back to ancient Egypt, and was chewed by Roman legionaries. "The thing about licorice and about these [fruit] chews and so on, is that they depend on gum, and it was the Arabs, again, who formulated through their pharmacy these gummy preparations for the throat," Richardson says.

Even today, the big trends in candy are chewing gum and gummy products, the author points out.

Soldiers' favorite snack

The history of chocolate is somewhat different. The Mayans introduced it to Europe, and most people were hooked on drinking it long before anyone ever thought of putting the words "fun size" on a bag of Snickers.

Chocolate wasn't sold as a bar until 1849, and it wasn't until World War I that the bars really caught on. Soldiers in particular liked the Clark Bar, an American creation that combines chocolate and peanut butter that is still made today.

The fact that these tough soldiers were eating candy bars made it seem OK for other men to eat them, says the author.

Many brands have been popular since the early 1900s. In the United States, peanuts often find their way into candy because of their easy availability. Yanks passed that taste along to the Brits, who returned the favor by bringing the KitKat bar across the pond.

Richardson's own Top 10 list is fairly sophisticated and surprisingly void of products from the US, a major candy exporter. "I felt awful about that," he says. "I do like American sweets."

His list includes Turkish Delight; the Cadbury Creme Egg; and Barfi, a fudge-like sweet from India made with condensed milk and subtly flavored with spices such as cardamom. Among his American favorites are Lifesavers, the Milky Way bar, and marshmallow Peeps.

"Our 'sweet cultures' are quite similar – the English and American," he says, explaining that although the brands are different, the candies are more alike than even those of France and England.

But Richardson would always choose an English sweet over an American one, if for no other reason than familiarity. "People tend to prefer the sweets they grew up with," he explains.

Homemade candy

Some of the best candy recipes can be found in culinary bibles such as 'The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.' Marion Cunningham's timeless classic features a section of 'Candies & Confections' and includes these tasty treats.

Candied Citrus Peel

This candy keeps so well that you might want to double the recipe.

2 grapefruits or 3 oranges or 6 lemons
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup water

Peel the fruit in large strips, using only the zest and white peel. If the white is very thick, trim it down a little. Put the peel in a pan, cover with cold water, and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water, and simmer until tender. Drain and cut the peel into small strips, about 1/4-inch wide and 2 inches long.

Mix 1 cup of the sugar with the corn syrup and water in a heavy saucepan and stir over low heat until dissolved. Dip a pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan. Then add the peel and cook very gently over low heat until most of the syrup has been absorbed. Cover and let stand overnight.

Reheat and bring to a simmer, then cool a little and drain. Spread the remaining cup of sugar over several layers of paper towels and roll the peel in it, turning so that all the pieces are well coated. (Or, put sugar in a bowl and, with a spoon, coat the peel in it.)

Let citrus peels stand until they are dry enough to handle. Stored airtight, they will stay fresh for several months. If they become too dry, put a piecelemon in the container for a day or two and the peel will soften.

Makes 2 cups.

Toffee

1 teaspoon vegetable oil for the pan

1 pound butter

2 cups sugar

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/3 cup slivered almonds

Oil a rectangular (jelly-roll) pan. Put the butter and sugar in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot and place over moderate heat, stirring as the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Wash down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil slowly over moderate heat until it reaches the hard-crack stage (290 degrees F.), stirring gently and touching the pan's sides only if mixture starts to scorch.

Pour mixture into the oiled pan and let cool partially, then score the toffee into squares. Cover the surface with the melted chocolate and sprinkle with the slivered almonds. When completely cool and hard, cut or break into small pieces and transfer to an airtight tin.

Makes 1-1/2 pounds.

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