Monday, December 13, 2010

Candy Cane Season

Have you heard about the origins of the candy cane? Have you been told that it all began when a candymaker wanted to make a sweet that would symbolize the birth, ministry and death of Jesus? So he made a stick of pure white hard candy, white symbolizing the virgin birth and the sinless life of Jesus. The hardness symbolizes how Jesus is the solid rock and the foundation of the church. The firmness also represents the promises of God.The candy maker bent the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the name of Jesus, also representing the staff of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The three small red stripes show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received, by which we are healed. The large red stripe is for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could be forgiven and have the promise of eternal life. Does all this ring a bell? And why mint? The flavor of mint is related to hyssop, which is associated with purification and sacrifice; hyssop is thought to have been used at the cross when Jesus was given a drink of vinegar before He gave up the Ghost.

Or maybe you heard it this way?

In 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Creche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds’ crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm. The body of the cane is white, representing the life that is pure. The broad red stripe is symbolic of the Lord’s sacrifice for man.


In its early form, the candy cane was a simple white stick of sugar. No cane shape, no stripes. The bend came next, possibly as a practical solution in the handmade process of pulling, cutting, and twisting the sugar stick, so as to facilitate hanging on a rod to dry.

The first mass production of candy canes is generally thought to have been achieved by Bob's Candy Company in 1920. Today, Bob's is part of the mega candy company Farley's & Sathers, who have taken over Trolli, Chuckles, Brach's, and a host of other traditional brands. Bobs (minus the apostrophe these days) are still dominant in the candy cane market.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Strange Candy for Thanksgiving

Turkey Joints have been hand-made by Nora's Candy Shop in Rome, New York, since 1919.

What, you say, you don't know about Turkey Joints? You have not heard about these weird confections with soft chocolate and brazil nut "bone marrow" centers surrounded by crunchy sugar bones?

You can order them here for your Thanksgiving table:

[Thanks to Aaron Gandy for the gift of a jar of Turkey Joints a couple of years ago. They come in jars! I just couldn't find a place for them in True Confections!]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Salty and Crunchy plus that M -- a Winner!

Big news in the land of M&Ms!
The National Confectionary Sales Association announced last week that the winner of the Best Candy of 2010 Award is Pretzel M&Ms. But we knew that already.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

$1.9 BILLION DOLLARS for Halloween Candy?

According to Nielsen Research, America spent approximately $1.9 billion for candy this Halloween season. That's a lot of candy.

The most popular Halloween candy is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Offensive as this may be to some people, I must confess that I really dislike Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The peanut butter always seems to me to be a terrible combination of stale, rancid, and sugary. I know that I am in a minority and we are a nation of Reese's lovers.

The Peanut Butter Cup was created by Harry Burnett (H.B.) Reese, who had worked for a while for Milton S. Hershey on the dairy side of the business. Reese's first candy bar attempts were Johnny Bars (molasses) and Lizzie Bars (coconut). Untasted, I would trade a PB Cup for a Lizzie Bar in a heartbeat. In True Confections, Alice Ziplinsky would have referenced the Johnny and Lizzie Bars if I had known about them before now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Not a staircase thought, but I am sure I will soon be thinking about things I meant to include in the revised manuscript for my forthcoming memoir which went back to my editor today. It isn't too late yet, but it soon will be.

July 2011 pub date. Watch this space.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Objects in Mirror

The forthcoming (July 2011) Broadway reissue of my first novel (which came out in 1995) is now listed at Amazon, complete with the wonderful new cover art. Much as I admire Henry Sene Yee, his finest work was not on the cover of the 1996 Picador paperback edition, which has always looked to me as if the book title is Appear Than They Are Closer in Mirror Objects.

At last, the book looks just right.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Our Spotless Sunlit Kitchens"

"When you crave good candy, eat a Mars confection."

Oh, the simple, innocent past (1939) when a person could eat a Snickers and feel only wholesome and virtuous. Did people really believe that Mars candy was made in sunlit (never mind spotless) kitchens? If it was made in windowless cellars would it taste any different? What an intriguing claim. Alice Ziplinsky would have snickered over this Snickers campaign strategy, while simultaneously boasting about the sunlit production space at Zip's Candies. How many national brands of candy bars are today manufactured in spotless, sunlit kitchens? How many Mars confections?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Unluck of the Irish

I am in West Cork at the moment, the setting for The Music Lesson. I included many instances of traditional Irish superstitions and beliefs in the story, but I hear more every time I am here, many of them poetic and strange. Most recently, I heard that it is bad luck to enter a house with your two hands at the same level, though it is unclear to me whose bad luck this will bring, yours or the person whose house you have entered.

Other odd beliefs that have been mentioned lately include these:

The bed of a sick person must be placed north and south never crossways.

There is one hour in the day during which a wish made will come true. But no one knows what the hour is.

Never cut an infant's nails until it he is a year old, or he will become a thief.

The first days of the year and of the week are the luckiest.

Friday is the most unlucky day of all, and no one should begin a journey, or move into a new house, or begin a business, or cut a new dress on a Friday. Most urgently, never bring a cat from one house to another on a Friday. (If only I had known about this fear, it would surely have appeared in The Music Lesson.)

It is good to cut your hair at the new moon, and especially by the light of the moon. But not on a Friday!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The title for my first novel probably helped attract a little bit of attention for the book, and even all these years later (it was published by Crown in 1995) people still light up and remark favorably about the title whenever it comes up.

The phrase originated as a safety warning required on the passenger side mirror of cars in the United States and Canada. I am not sure anyone knows who created the phrase with its distinctive missing "the." Side mirrors are convex, to provide an adequate field of view. So objects look smaller than they actually are, because they look farther away than they actually are. I love the phrase because the warning can also be taken to suggest that the past is not as far past as you think, but is in fact always present.

I am thrilled that Broadway will be bringing out a new paperback edition of Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear next summer, timed to match the release of my memoir, The Memory of All That. New cover image (for both!) soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Portrait of a Marriage

The Arnolfini Wedding is a central image of my first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, and it appeared on the jacket of the Crown hardcover in 1995. I still have a thing for that painting. There are many ways of reading this picture, and there are endless symbolic elements to decode, from the fruit on the sill to the candles in the light fixture. Among the various interpretations, the painting is thought to be a document, a record of the marriage depicted, with the painter, Van Eyck, appearing in the reflection as a witness.

My 34th wedding anniversary was on Sunday, and perhaps because of that, and also because I just saw the new cover image for the forthcoming Broadway Books paperback re-issue of Objects (Summer 2011), which is a fantastic design with a photograph and not this painting, I found myself wanting to look at the reflection detail particularly. Here it is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Still Waiting for Harkin-Engel

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in September of 2001, at a moment when the world was preoccupied with other things. It was meant to be the beginning of the end of child slavery in the cacao fields of Western Africa. But it was really just a document and nothing more than a wish list. The reality is that today, right now, there are thousands of child workers. some of them virtual slaves, harvesting cacao pods on the vast plantations in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana which supply much of the world's ordinary chocolate. These children have never tasted finished chocolate, but they work long hours harvesting cacao pods with few options or protections. These are young children who are not in school. It's not much of a childhood.

This week, on Monday, it was announced that the United States government and the chocolate industry pledged a total of $17 million "to help end child labor, some of it forced and dangerous" in those two African countries.

"If there's one thing people around the world share in common it's our love of chocolate. But it is a bitter reality that the main ingredient in chocolate, cocoa, is produced largely by child labor," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, at a signing ceremony for a new agreement between industry, the Department of Labor, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Let's see it. Wouldn't it be great if just one big confectionary company could certify that their product was made without child labor? Right now, not one of them can make that declaration.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The West Cork Landscape

I am in Ireland at the moment, in the West Cork village that inspired my second novel, The Music Lesson (which I am pleased to report will be republished in a nice new paperback edition by Three Rivers Press in January).

Because I didn't want to identify the village where we spent our honeymoon in 1976 and have owned a cottage since 1986, I didn't consider mentioning one of the most prominent and identifiable features of Glandore, the Drombeg stone circle. But I regret not setting a scene there. A country mile from my doorstep, the Drombeg stone circle, one of the most intact in all of Ireland, is an uncanny place where a sense of the past looms very large. Ireland has many pasts, from the mysterious culture that built these circles to the maiming hatred that has kept the troubles simmering for nearly a hundred years.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Out of Four

Many of the brands we think of today as classic or even iconic herald from the golden era of candy manufacturing, when there were hundreds of regional brands that were often short-lived. Here is a collection of four vintage candy boxes. One of these is not like the other: Tootsie Rolls. It succeeded while the other three failed. Why? The name, the flavor and texture, the packaging, the marketing? Maybe all of those things.

Chances are you have never heard of the Mars confection called Dr. I.Q., or the "delicious" Cabbage Candy Bar, or Guernsey Girl Malted Milk Chocolate Candy. I would have happily included these long lost confections in True Confections had I known of their existence.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Great Fire of Skala

I am in the final stages of writing a family memoir, The Memory Of All That. In my father's OSS personnel files, of all places, I have discovered information about his parents' origins that I never knew before. My grandfather Samuel Kaufman, a grocer, hailed from Rowno, Poland. My grandmother, Pauline Gottesfeld Kaufman, hailed from Skala in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a town which has had a 20th century odyssey of its own without ever moving, as it was then (1887) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but over the century was part of Poland, then part of the USSR, until 1990, when Ukraine was made independent, and so today it is in Ukraine.

In reading about Skala, I learned that there was a huge exodus of the Jewish population as a consequence of "the Great Fire of Skala" in 1899. The Gottesfelds arrived in America in 1900. Given that my novel Triangle has at its heart the Triangle waist company factory fire of 1911, I regret not having awareness that for a number of immigrants, some of whom were no doubt present that terrible day in March of 1911, there was a bitter irony, fleeing one fire only to meet this historic fire in the land of opportunity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Revisiting Pickaninny Peppermints

I discussed Thurgood Marshalls' ultimately successful crusade against Whitman's Pickaninny Peppermints in April, but the only picture I could locate was small and didn't have much impact. I have a better image now. Lovely, isn't it, the way the candy company best known for the traditional Americana of the beloved Whitman's Sampler box managed to work in the biggest traditional racist cliché about how a certain group of people jes' loves dey watermelon?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The News You've Been Anxious About: Ms. Green Takes the Prize

You know it's the silly season when urgent press releases from Mars circulate through the candy world as if heralding a vital breaking world news event. The moment had come to announce that Ms. Green is America's favorite M&M'S character.

On July 27, Mars Chocolate North America announced that Ms. Green nabbed nearly a quarter of the 3.4 million votes cast by fans with nothing better to do. You would think it goes without saying, but Mars made sure to say it, simultaneously announcing as they did the defeat of M&M'S characters Red, Yellow, Blue and Orange.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Enough Cacao Beans for Five Billion Chocolate Bars?

What's the story with the cocoa bean guy? Big screaming headlines around the world have been reporting on the mysterious hedge fund manager, Anthony Ward, who has really almost cornered the world market in cocoa. There are estimates that he has now stockpiled enough cocoa beans to make more than five billion chocolate bars.

Is he stockpiling cocoa in a bid to drive up already high prices so he can sell later at a big profit? Cocoa prices have now reached a 30-year high. Nobody knows exactly what he is doing, but chocolate manufacturers around the world are nervous. His private investment firm, Armajaro, now controls something like 7 percent of annual cocoa production worldwide. Armajaro maintains offices in West Africa, close to the source. Apparently the company name is an amalgam of the names of his and his business partner's four children. I wonder if he gives much thought to what he surely knows, that children in West Africa are performing slave labor to harvest a significant percentage of those cocoa beans?

True Confections was inspired by the troubling child slave labor on West African cacao plantations. From that issue grew my question: for whom would this be a moral dilemma? Who would be most personally confronted by this siuation? Someone with a chocolate candy factory. And from there came Zip's Candies and the Ziplinsky family. Who would tell the story, and why? From that question came Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky, the insider-outsider narrator. Chocolate candy seems like such a manufactured product, we can forget that it is derived from nature, from a plant, and far too often, from an agricultural industry that mistreats children.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kids and Grownups Love It So!

At the spectacularly fun candy convention in Chicago in May, one of the most useful nuggets of information I acquired was the correct pronunciation of the name of the gigantic maker of all things gummy, or rather, gummi -- Haribo.

It's a name that has made me nervous for years. Harribou? Hairy bow? Harry boo? The nice Haribo lady presiding over the serpentine counter of glistening gummi goodness that is the Haribo space every year at the convention taught me the way to pronounce it, chanting their enduring slogan: "Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!"[harry-bow] This is a translation from the original German slogan, "Haribo macht kinder froh / und Erwachsene ebenso." A mouthful of gummi candy would make it easier to speak German, I think.

In True Confections, Zip's Candies has a red and black licorice line called Mumbo Jumbos, named for Little Black Sambo's parents. These are a pair of red and black licorice discs about the dimensions of a backgammmon piece. I await the call for product licensing for this among several of my more reasonable fictional candy lines. But of course, not all gummi lovers would accept Mumbo Jumbos or the nonfictional Red Vines and Twizzlers as gummi, per se. I regret that I didn't have Alice ponder the distinctions, the equatorial line dividing the gummi hemisphere and the licorice hemisphere.

I am not an indiscriminate gummi lover by any means. But I have a thing for those peculiar, nonpareil-ish raspberries. And after much scientific testing, I can say definitively that the dark ones do taste different from the red ones. I think. Not really sure. More testing is required.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It Probably Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Maybe this was the thinking:

Miley Cyrus, popular with kids, check.

Candy, popular with kids, check.

Hannah Montana Candy, genius!

Candy should be in the shape of a guitar, why not?

Candy should be flesh colored, okay, sure. BAD, BAD, IDEA!

Alice Ziplinsky made some serious miscalculations with some of her candy lines, but nothing was this bad. I regret that she didn't make mention of this product in defense of her Little Susies.

Friday, July 9, 2010

We're Having a Heat Wave! A Tropical Heat Wave!

Few of us who haven't served in a military operation in a tropical climate know the very muted joy of biting into a Hershey's Tropical Chocolate Bar.

In 1943 the Procurement Division of the United States Army asked Hershey's to develop a heat resistant bar for the troops. Voila, the Hershey's Tropical Chocolate Bar, formulated so the bar can hold its shape after one hour in heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In True Confections it was noted that Eli was quite jealous of Hershey's military contracts and took particular delight when Kiss production was shut down during the War, because of a shortage of material for the foil wrappers.

Apparently, the Hershey's Tropical Chocolate Bar was not very yummy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is There a 4th of July Candy Tradition? No There is Not.

Candy is associated with many American holidays, but to the eternal sorrow and frustration of the candy industry, there is nothing really indelible about the 4th of July, candy-wise. The Hershey's people have been brilliant in recent years about cross-marketing the Hershey Bar with Nabisco Graham Crackers and Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows for some s'mores end cap and bin displays in supermarkets, but that's really about it. (See page 42 of True Confections for Alice Ziplinsky's views on this subject.) Most efforts to grab some 4th of July dollars from supermarket shoppers consist of feeble seasonal cellophane wrappers on boxes, but even then, what is the symbol for the 4th of July? Christmas is a tree or an ornament, Valentine's Day is a heart, but what is the 4th of July? Red white and blue, the American flag. Maybe there are some compelling patriotic jelly bean mixes out there. But red, white and blue and the flag are also symbols for Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and also other [problematic to many of us] patriotic endeavors like "supporting" our troops, depending on context.

One company that has tried harder than most to corner the 4th of July candy dollar is Tootsie. But the flag labels don't convince me that Tootsie Rolls are a traditional element of the day, and I doubt that shoppers will ever make their lists for their 4th of July cookout or picnic so that right after hot dogs, hamburger, buns, ketchup, pickles, chips, anyone is going to write Tootsie Roll Midgees. But nice try, Tootsie!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On a Scale of One to Ten:

A candy bar composed of caramel, peanut and almond nougat (so far, so good and also so universal), covered with...delicious white fudge. Hmm. Make that "delicious white fudge," you ingredient swapper-outers at Hershey's. How the Zero Bar has surived since 1920 (or 1931, depending on where you find this product history) is a bit of a mystery, though it is probable that when it was first produced by Hollywood Brands of Centralia, Illinois, it really was made with actual delicious white fudge.

Have you tasted one of these? I finally tried one for the first time at the Sweets & Snacks Expo last month. Very groovy graphics aside (and graphics do count for something), the vile chemical fakeness is quite extreme. I've had more delicious spackle. If this were a new product launch instead of a retro line that has been sold down the river repeatedly (Hollywood was sold to Consolidated Foods/Sara Lee, which sold it to the Finnish company H. Oy, owners of Leaf candy brands in the U.S., which was sold to Hershey's in 1996), it would never have survived. Or been developed in the first place.

If they were launching this bar today and trying to come up with a name for it, it would be obvious how they had arrived at the name Zero: focus groups asked to taste it and rate the flavor on a scale of one to ten would have been the inspiration. Alice Ziplinsky, worshipper of Green & Black's White Chocolate, would have had a great deal of scorn for this "delicious white fudge."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Does a Gummy Army Travel On Its Stomach?

My unscientific yet thorough in its own way analysis of candy preferences tells me that devotion to gummy candy is an overwhelmingly female trait. Maybe the gummy candy people think so too. Why else would they have produced Green Gummy Army Guys? Now you can crawl around in the backyard and have your bloodthirsty war games and eat them too! Surely Alice Ziplinsky would have deplored and also admired this product.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Ingenius Q

Immortalized by Ian Fleming as Q in the Bond books, Charles Fraser-Smith was a resourceful inventor employed by the British Ministry of Supply during World War II to create a panpoly of tools to aid the war effort. His creations included tiny Minox cameras disguised inside cigarette lighters, flashlights with one genuine battery and a dummy 'battery' containing a secret compartment, shaving brushes with secret compartments (accessed by tops that unscrewed the "wrong" way, so any ordinary attempt to 'unscrew' the top would only tighten it), uniform buttons containing a compass or explosive charge, boot laces containing Gigli saws (thin, flexible band saws used by surgeons for brain surgery), maps printed in invisible ink on handkerchiefs which needed to be soaked in urine in order to be seen, cigarette holder telescopes (complete with nicotine stains) -- and that's just a few random examples.

Why tell you about him?

Because he created a garlic-flavored chocolate tablet specifically designed to give secret agents operating behind enemy lines the correct 'continental' breath. Presumably this was chased with a swig of coffee or red wine concealed inside one of those secret compartments. If only Eli Ziplinsky had been asked to produce these garlic chocolate tablets at Zip's Candies for the US Army!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Man Bait!

Last week in Chicago, as I wandered the aisles of the Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place, I had the recurring hall of mirrors experience of being halfway in the fictional world of True Confections. Certain sweet and snacky items especially made me think that the three iconic candy lines inspired by Little Black Sambo for which Zip's Candies has been known since 1924, as well as some of the newer products manufactured by Zip's, are actually perfectly reasonable, realistic, viable candy lines, in comparison.

Exhibit A: Das Lolli's Man Bait Maple Bacon Lollipops. They're odd. A bit sweet, but why not, given that it's a lollipop. I am not sure how the man baiting is supposed to work. You put them out and men are attracted? But do they swarm you, or your lollipop? What has actually been achieved here?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tastes Like Red!

I am just back from the fabulous 2010 Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago -- the largest candy trade show in the Americas -- and one of the many exciting things I discovered there (while experiencing the three days as a complex sort of deja vu, given the scenes in True Confections that take place at this show, where this year I was signing books in the Candy Industry Magazine booth) was that America's favorite flavor is "red." Cherry, strawberry, whatever -- so long as it's red. This is why one of the dominant new flavors popping up across a range of familiar products is pomegranate. And then there's the just-released variation of Just Born's Mike and Ike -- Red Rageous, a mix of red flavors (grape, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, melon). If Alice Ziplinsky had known that most people think their favorite flavor is red, she would have had something to say about that in the pages of True Confections.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Hershey Train

Why didn't I include a reference in True Confections to Milton S. Hershey's train, still functioning in Cuba today? In 1927, Hershey, having first established his own sugar refining source in Cuba in order to avoid being at the mercy of fluctuating sugar prices, built his own train line that crossed the island, making it possible for workers to travel easily to the Hershey sugar cane factory, and to transport the sugar back to the harbor, for export to his chocolate manufacturing plant in Hershey, Pa.

Hershey was an extraordinarily thoughtful, idealistic, humanitarian, and also very, very practical businessman. He decided to locate his sugar refining operation in the province of Matanzas because he believed its higher elevation was a healthier (and therefore more productive) location. Hershey constructed a small village near his sugar cane plantation, rows of workers’ cottages with front porches and tile roofs. Unlike most sugar plantations, the Hershey operation paid weekly wages, instead of hiring and firing workers seasonally. The Hershey village had a medical clinic and grocery store, and he provided this little worker community with a school, complete with playground, and its own power plant generating electricity, as well as sewers and a water supply. All of this was in the name of productivity, but there was also a fascinating and admirable humanitarian intention manifest in this way of doing business.

Milton Hershey guessed wrong about the longterm stability of Cuba when he chose his sugar plantation location for its proximity to the U.S., and when Castro came to power in 1959, Hershey enterprises were closed down. Today the plantation is a jungle, and the workers' village is a ghost town, but the train still runs. Alice Ziplinksy would have had something to say about this, probably an identification with Hershey's good intentions being thwarted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I forgot the bris!

Why wasn't there a ritual circumcision for Jacob Ziplinsky in True Confections, complete with a contentious Ziplinsky family gathering and a chopped chicken liver centerpiece? How could I have overlooked this opportunity for Alice Ziplinsky to report on, mock, analyze, and feel superior to this particular Ziplinsky family custom? Rats.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Strange Candy Bar Concepts

If you thought the Fat Emma, the Cherry Hump, and the Chicken Dinner were strange candy bar names, consider the Love Nest, which I have never heard of before now or I would have mentioned it in True Confections. What were they thinking?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Supreme Court Candy Moment

When you hear the words "Whitman's Sampler," what does it conjure up? A box of chocolates, designed to resemble a traditional stitched sampler to show its all-American goodness, often presented at holidays or other special occasions? Ever hear of the once-popular Whitman's Pickaninny Peppermints? Here's why not. In 1941 a certain NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall published an article about Whitman's racial insensitivity in a journal called Afro-American. The Whitman's people tried to insist that the term "pickaninny" only meant "cute colored kid." (See Heide's "Black Kids" candy posted here on 03.06.10 -- perhaps that was somebody's idea of an updated and enlightened product name.) Not so coincidentally, after four years of defensive corporate correspondence with Marshall on this topic, Whitman's Pickaninny Peppermints were withdrawn. Thurgood Marshall, of course, went on to become the first African American (or Negro, as he was called at the time) to serve on the US Supreme Court. Today we have a president of color soon to make his second appointment to the Supreme Court bench. Yet another instance of racism and candy product marketing and history that would have been terrific grist for Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky's complex and conflicted mill in True Confections.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Building the Cinnamon Bomb

Nello Ferrara of the Ferrara Pan Candy family invented the Atomic FireBall in 1954, inspired by the postwar optimistic embrace of all things atomic. (Think of those George Nelson clocks.) A red hot candy that could blow your head off, great idea!

In True Confections, Little Sammies are panned for their thin hard-shell chocolate coating ("just a little more brittle than a Raisinet's, that gave them their signature sheen"), but a panned candy like the Atomic FireBall begins life as a grain of sugar to which liquid sugar is added gradually in the rotating drum (the "pan" in case you have never quite understood what the Ferrara Pan thing means and had visions of frying pans) in which the candies tumble for an astonishing two weeks as the microscopically thin layers of sugar build up on the original core grain. I wish I had devoted more attention to this peculiar process in True Confections.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wide Duchess or Narrow Lady?

I am in Ireland at the moment, finishing up a revision of my own screenplay adaptation of The Music Lesson. It's a great task for a writer, writing through a finished novel in order to transpose it into another medium, and the job has given me some new insights into novel structure. I am also involved in a renovation of the cottage we have owned in West Cork since 1986.

In The Music Lesson, Patricia is alone in a cottage at the edge of the sea in West Cork, minding a priceless Vermeer portrait that has been stolen from the Queen for political purposes. In all her observing of Irish life, it didn't occur to me to have her ponder the traditional names for different sizes of roof slates, which are quite superb:

(All sizes are in inches - length x width)
26 x 16
Princess or Wide Duchess
24 x 14
24 x 12
Small Duchess
22 x 12
22 x 11
Broad/Wide Countess
20 x 12
20 x 10
Small Countess
18 x 10
18 x 9
Wide Lady
16 x 10
Broad Lady
16 x 9
16 x 8
Wide Header
14 x 12
14 x 10
Small Lady
14 x 8
Narrow Lady
14 x 7
Small Header
13 x 10
12 x 6
10 x 5

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Most Boring Game in the Universe!

Ever wonder why the game of CANDY LAND was SO b-o-r-i-n-g? A certain Eleanor Abbott, herself afflicted with polio, dreamed up the game in 1946 as an entertainment for children on polio wards. Introduced in 1949 at the price of one dollar, CANDY LAND was advertised as fulfilling "the sweet tooth yearning of the younger set without the tummy ache aftereffects."

Since the game requires no skill or strategy whatsoever, and originally had no personalities either (they came in later editions), only those rather creepy board landmarks, anyone with even minimal consciousness can play it, even someone immobilized in an iron lung. The good or bad luck of the draw of the cards is really all there is, which is why this "sweet little game for sweet little follks" takes forever. As you may recall, some of those cards cause major setbacks, and when you get stuck while turn after turn passes, the boringness of this game reaches a level that makes you yearn for the hullabaloo and drama of drying paint.
I hated CANDY LAND as a child, and I wish I had included some sort of CANDY LAND trauma for Alice in her grim Tatnall childhood. It would have suited that aspect of True Confections. But unlike Hasbro and all their casual Queen Frostine mutations, I won't be making changes in future editions.
(This post was inspired by the ever-wonderful )

Monday, March 15, 2010

Daylight Savings, Halloween, and the Candy Industry

During the Q & A at an event for True Confections yesterday afternoon, I was asked if I had a comment about the candy industry's efforts to have the end of Daylight Savings fall after Halloween, in order to preserve a valuable extra hour of daylight trick-or-treating. (There are also safety considerations; every year, children die in trafffic accidents on Halloween night.) This was the first I had heard about such lobbying efforts on the part of the confectionary establishment, but it makes perfect sense. DST was extended to November 1 starting in 2007, but I am not aware of any specific stats on a surge in candy sales in the last few years to match that extra hour. Alice would have had something to say about this, on page 170 of True Confections.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cocoanut Ping!

I have recently discovered a trove of obscure Mars candy bar boxes. Apparently the new Coconut M&Ms are not the first time Mars has ventured into Mounds territory (I am convinced the new coconut M&Ms are a response to the Hershey Mounds Pieces). Too bad they gave up on this particular Mars confection long ago. It would have been included in True Confections. I like the name a lot, and it lends itself to marketing campaigns. Ping me!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hot Chocolate

As Alice Ziplinsky notes in True Confections, the brand and image connection between comforting foods and jolly black people is an old and and persistent one, especially in France. Here's another example I had not heard of before now, "Negrocao," a portmanteau brand name presumably consisting of Negro + cacao. The word "Negronoir" is also made up, sort of blackblack. Love the cup and saucer hat. Note the white-bearded Caucasian gent (he looks like Matisse or Freud) offering a steaming cup of this product to a delighted doll-like Caucasian child.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Generic Racist Candy Name

Here's a vintage candy box showing an instance when there was so little imagination devoted to producing a candy with this familiar, racist marketing strategy that a generic name sufficed. Alice Ziplinsky would have talked about this one too, for sure, and probably would have given points to Eli for his misguided creativity and more subtle approach. Yet another candy invoking the weirdly persistent white culture's condescending caricature of the Negro? How shall we at Heide's* Candy Company distinguish it? Let's call about Black Kids! Why not?

*Further exploration reveals that Heide's Candy Company was founded in New York in 1869 by Henry Heide, who died in 1931. He was succeeded by his son Andrew, who retired in 1992, and it was his son, Philip Heide, who was to follow the usual pattern of family businesses in the third or fourth generation, and sell out to a large corporation. He sold to Hershey in 1995. But then Farley’s & Sathers Candy Co. Inc. (a hugely complex corporate entity with a convoluted history intertwined with Kraft, Hershey, Nabisco, Brach's and others) acquired all the Heide brand products from Hershey in 2002.

You have never eaten a Colored Kid (one hopes), but have you ever consumed Gummi Bears, Jujubees, Jujyfruits, Mexican Hats, Wunderbeans, or Red Hot Dollars? Those are Heide brands, too. (Sort of like discovering you do business with the nice people who used to make Zyklon B, isn't it?) Colored Kids were artifically colored and black anise flavored. Heide also made a "mello cream candy" called Chocolate Babies. (Not to be confused with those other problematic Babies, which were smaller and more Tootsie-like in texture.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Black Jack, Anyone?

The long association through much of the 20th century between candy and other comestibles and quaint depictions of black people is rich and cringey. Here, for example, we see the long lost cousin of the Clark Bar. Anything made with licorice or chocolate lent itself especially easily to this dimwitted and popular marketing strategy over the decades. Why this brand of caramels qualified for minstrel status is less clear. Over 69 years of progress? What does that mean? Caramel progress, minstrel progress, D.L. Clark Candy Company progress? In any case, if I had known of this brand I would have had Alice Ziplinsky mention it in her tirade about Negro imagery in candy and food advertising in the pages of True Confections.

Friday, February 26, 2010

L'Esprit D'Escalier versus Kindness

Last week I spoke at the wonderful Washington bookstore, Politics & Prose, to an enthusiastic and attentive audience, about True Confections. After my talk and reading, which included the playing the jingle from the counterfeit 1960 commercial for Little Sammies (see, well into the q & a, a woman raised her hand, declared her enjoyment of the book, and then asked me, "How does the Ziplinsky family feel about the book? Have you heard from any of them?

I was a little stunned, and I asked her to clarify her question, which she restated firmly. Have I heard from members of the Ziplinsky family? What did they think of the novel? I talked about the very literal response to my previous novel, Triangle, which has led to numerous inquiries from scholars seeking the original documents I quote from throughout the novel (they're all fictional). I explained why this inspired me to create the website for the fictional candy company in this novel. And then I told her very carefully, with a smile, that the fictional characters in my novel, a work of fiction, these imaginary people who run an imaginary candy company, are, no doubt, very angry with me. And everyone laughed, but not, at this point, directly at my questioner.

The l'esprit d'escalier thought for that moment, which occurred to me an hour later when I was having dinner with old friends, was to go straight to the big laugh, and for a moment I wished I had responded to her question by saying, "Oh, bad subject! The Ziplinskys are totally furious, and they're suing me for huge damages. It's an utter nightmare. My attorney won't allow me to talk about it." If I had gone for that bigger laugh, which would have been at her expense, I like to think my esprit'descalier at dinner would have been one of regret that I hadn't been kinder.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Sometimes people get so caught up in their own vision of a product in development that they forget to take a step back and see how it might, at a glance, strike the casual passerby. Presumably, that is what happened when the naive people at Mill Farm, possessed of a strange belief that gummy candy in the shape of a lighthouse would be a worthwhile innovation, set about creating this product. Never once did they waver from their goal. Never once did they turn the product on its side.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Candy Failure

In True Confections, Alice makes more than one terrible mistake with candy products. She takes responsibility for neither the Bereavemints fiasco nor the regrettable packaging decisions about Little Susies. Had I glimpsed this ill-conceived gumball machine while I was writing the novel, Alice would have mentioned it as an example of mistakes made by others.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Abba-Zaba Baby

And here is the original Abba-Zaba baby, sitting under a taffy tree. Extraordinary, isn't it?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Abba-Zaba Holy Grail!

Found it at last! In True Confections I had Alice speculate about the murky origins of Abba-Zaba, which, rumor had it, used to feature jungle savages on the package. A later design featured the Abba-Zaba baby, a sort of monkey-like savage. Alice was looking for context for Zip's Candies own Little Sammies with their "Say, Dat's Tasty!" slogan. But as I was writing the novel and desperate to see with my own eyes the original Abba-Zaba label, these Abba-Zaba wrappers were not findable anywhere. Nobody really knew for sure what they looked like, and even the Annabelle Candy Company, which bought Abba-Zaba when they acquired Cardinet, didn't have those original wrappers. (It turns out Cardinet had bought the Abba-Zaba license or had taken over an earlier company, Colby & McDermott, a name new to me. Abba-Zabas seem to have been around since 1922.)

But during a recent idle internet search (the number one procrastination tool of today's writer), I found them at last, newly posted at a candy wrapper museum website. Looking at the original Abba-Zaba savages, I am even more convinced that I am correct in my theory that the name of this candy was based on a kind of made-up imaginary Zulu jungle savage utterance. Look at the picture, and say the words Abba-Zaba. Again. Again. Abba-Zaba, Abba-Zaba! Listen. Can you hear the jungle drums? The natives are restless!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Today is publication day for True Confections! In an alternate universe, my novel has another title, my working title for years -- Temper. I liked the word for all its possible meanings, from mood and anger to the process of tempering chocolate, which requires strict control of temperatures while first heating and then cooling chocolate so that the molecules will form a uniform crystal structure, which is what gives good chocolate its glossy shine and its "snap." (Badly tempered chocolate is dull and lumpy and snapless.) So I loved all the metaphorical possibilities of the title Temper.

But my editor said No dice! And he was right. We brainstormed through dozens of titles and finally I returned to one of his first suggestions, True Confections, which is just the right title for the novel formerly known as Temper.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Today's New York Times has a delightfully informative obituary for Curtis Allina, the leading candidate for the distinguished historical achievement that helped makes Meg Whitman all she is today -- dreaming up the notion of putting character heads on Pez dispensers -- or at least, Allina was the one who made it happen. (The first two, in 1955, were Santa Claus and a character called Space Trooper.) The original Pez product was, according to the New York Times, meant for adults, and the container was designed to resemble a cigarette lighter, which makes sense, because the original Pez mints as conceived in 1927 by Eduard Haas III (the New York Times calls him "a Viennese food products mogul") were intended both as breath mints for smokers and as an alternative to smoking. (The name Pez is a slangy contraction of pfefferminz, the German word for peppermint.) I wrote quite a bit about Pez in True Confections, and I consider myself Pez-knowledgable, but I didn't know then what I know this morning, about the original packaging. RIP, Mr. Allina. You made your mark on civilization.