I had to address this sooner or later. It was as inevitable as the fact that there would never be a September/October folklore column that did not wrap itself fondly and unshakably around that most magic of holidays: Halloween!
I can no more avoid that than decide to stop eating or breathing, and at last I could no longer avoid this most enduring staple of the fall season, that sweet, often honey-based confection over a century old now, still arriving bedecked in the same three colors our ancestors knew, magic triangular bites that, if one is six or seven and missing just the right teeth, serve as the most excellent vampire fangs…
This is the story of Candy Corn.
Now, it is said that a certain Philadelphia candy maker named George Renninger was actually the inventor of "butter cream" -- a soft candy created by mixing sugar, corn syrup and marshmallow (plus an extra ingredient or two) into a malleable, chewable treat.
Renninger took advantage of the candy's malleable qualities to shape it into various forms -- peapods, chestnuts, turnips, and, finally, corn kernels.
Now, the corn kernels seemed less interesting than the others, owing to the rather basic shape of the things, so for these George added something extra…
All Candy had been uniformly hued up to that point. In those impossibly primitive times just 120 years ago, it would have been much too costly to attempt to mass-produce a multicolored candy.
But George did it. His company was the now-forgotten "Wunderlee Candy Company", a relatively small candy producer, but it was not so small to keep him from initiating a new system where laborers would pour the three differently colored layers of mix into corn kernel molds, one layer at a time. It took three times as long to manufacture and was as such a pretty big gamble, but it paid off. The great "buttercream" taste coupled with the novelty of the three colors proved irresistible to the masses, and Candy Corn was a hit.
Unfortunately, the candy's popularity was George's downfall, and larger candy rival Goelitz soon "appropriated the idea, by 1898 advertizing their own "Butter Sweet Candy Corn". It became a staple of the Summer/Fall season, and, in spite of a brief attempt around the 1920's to redub the candy "Chicken Feed", Candy Corn remained true to its origins. Of course, another candy rival, Brach's, began selling their own candy corn in 1948. They added two innovations -- first, they used honey instead of conventional sugar.
Then, they narrowed the seasonal aspect down even more, electing to manufacture and sell Candy Corn only during the Halloween season. They quickly became and remain the Candy Corn leader, in effect doing to Goelitz what Goelitz had done to Wunderlee.
Amazingly, that same three-colored design was still a source of wonder 70 years after its invention, as I recall discovering Candy Corn when I was about Clara's age, and found myself eating each candy one color at a time, just to see if there was even the slightest difference in flavor between them.
And I am sure you need not ask what Clara's favorite Halloween treat is.
Between the two of us we have already decimated the first Candy Corn bag of the season...