N-E-S-T-L-E-S… Are you singing the jingle? If so, you’re old enough to recall reaching up to drop your small change on the counter of the general store to buy penny candies like Bit-O-Honeys, Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, candy buttons, wax soda bottles filled with flavored syrups and so on.
Candies from a bygone era, or retro or vintage candies as they are called, are now a candy trend. Their brightly colored wrappers, beckoning from old-school candy bins or antique oak display cases, have become big business. Fans of the sweet and gooey, the crispy and the crunchy scour the world looking for just the right combinations of taste and texture, and manufacturers are re-introducing discontinued brands like Charleston Chew, Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, Black Jack Gum, Chiclets and Juicy Fruit.
In my family, the sweet art of confectionery dominated every holiday. There were candy corn and mini chocolate bars in our trick-or-treat bags at Halloween, candy-decorated gingerbread houses and peppermint candy canes at Christmas, “conversation” candy hearts on Valentine’s Day, and at Easter time all the dipped-in-chocolate delights, jelly beans, sugar-dusted marshmallow peeps and, of course, the giant edible effigy left in our Easter baskets by Sir Rabbit, himself.
Chocolates are the hard currency of candy. Once the ancient Mesoamericans discovered the palate-pleasing qualities of the cacao tree’s fermented, roasted and ground beans, chocolate became a precious commodity that was ceremonially served during religious rituals, quaffed by royalty and traded for other valuable goods. Much later, the Europeans added refined sugar and milk, developed the emulsification process and learned how to press the cocoa butter from the beans. Mechanical processes developed during the Industrial Revolution made candy available to the masses.
These days, the art of the chocolatier extends far beyond the borders of fondant and flavor. Chocolate massages aside, chocolate chess pieces vie with chocolate stilettos for top prize in the strange-uses-for-chocolate category. In 2005, a 227-pound, life size chocolate figure of Elton John that took a thousand hours to create was added to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London. In 2012, Qzina Specialty Foods set the world record for the largest chocolate sculpture with an 18,000-pound replica of a Mayan pyramid. The chocolate “Temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza” is on display at the Qzina Institute of Chocolate and Pastry in Irvine, CA. It is slated for destruction on December 21, 2012, the final day of the Mayan calendar.