My gummy valentine

I have been looking for chocolates (this month candy buying is big for obvious reasons).  But instead of dropping cash for a small box of exquisite chocolates, I want to create a surprise bowl for the entire family that is made up of the odd, the sentimental, and the small production candies.  I remember my mother loving the Cherry Mash mound, with the bright pink soft core and the nubby peanut and chocolate cover.  I still like Necco Wafers.  Husband fondly recalls the Marathon bar (not a small company candy, but out of production it seems from M&M/Mars since 1981). 

So where to get them?  I was perusing the Wall Street Journal today and saw a piece on small candy companies that still produce in the United States.  Steve Almond (www.stevenalmond.com) author of Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, writes about the demise of small candy companies and the plethora of strange and wonderful confections that have fallen by the wayside as a result.  He also writes about those who survive, such as:

  • Chase Candy Company, candy purveyors since 1876. St. Joseph, Missouri, makers of the Cherry Mash among others.  1-800-786-1625, info@cherrymash.com

• Necco Wafers, Clark bars, Sky Bar, Conversation Hearts: They’re all manufactured by New England Confectionery, founded in 1847 and based in Revere, Mass. 781-485-4500 

• Goldenberg Candy, of Peanut Chews fame, founded in 1890 and based in Philadelphia. The Goldenberg family sold out to another family-run company, Just Born, (known for Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, Marshmallow Peeps) in 2003.  1-888-645-3453

• Nashville’s Standard Candy, founded in 1901, is the maker of Goo Goo Clusters, a round cluster of peanuts, caramel, marshmallow and milk chocolate.  615-889-6360

• Sioux City, Iowa, is home to Palmer Candy, founded in 1878 and maker of, among others, Twin Bing, a pair of candies with pink cherry-flavored filling surrounded by crushed peanuts and chocolate.  712-258-5543

• Sifers Valomilk Candy is a five-generation (founded in 1903), family-owned company in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  

• Idaho Candy in Boise, was founded in 1901 and makes the Idaho Spud, Old Faithful Bar and Cherry Cocktail.  1-800-898-6986

• Annabelle Candy in Hayward, Calif., makes Big Hunk, Rocky Road, Look, U-NO and Abba-Zaba. Founded in 1917.  510-783-2900

(This list does not include the wonderful “small batch” chocolatiers which have come into popularity in the last several years, such as Scharffen Berger, Rubens Belgian Chocolates, Richart, Recchiuti, Payard, Burdick, etc.)

It’s strange to think that in the 1950’s there were thousands of small candy companies in this country.  There were all sorts of odd, often regionally popular confections.  Mostly sweet, some savory, and many with strange names.

 As the big three candy companies in the U.S. (already having spent the latter half of the twentieth century buying out as many small companies as possible) Hershey, Nestlé and Mars, streamline their product lines it seems to me small candy companies become more necessary.  Vendors for the products matter too, and I have found that the Vermont Country Store carries many of the small production wonders (and if they don’t, they will readily try to find what you want if you ask them).

So get on the net, and order some weird candy.  Forgo the easy appeal of the bags and boxes in every store, and go for the difficult to find (I like a velvet box as much as the next person, but don’t need another one to store paper clips in).  Make candy a treat again, not just an everyday habit made of the lowest common denominator in flavor and style.  Let me know about your own regional small candy companies too!

Even if Valentines Day is as much a commercial concoction as Mother’s Day, it can be a reason in this bleak, long winter to have fun.  

Romance?

I was surfing today when I saw an ad for a contest, promoting the film Last Chance Harvey.  On the site Divine Caroline, the contest asked in very few words to describe one of the most romantic things that had ever happened to you.  Most of the responses were, well, sad or pretty standard.  I could think of many, and added what I think was certainly the most random.

I was in my early 20’s living in Chicago.  It was a warm day.  I wore one of my favorite long cotton skirts, white sleeveless shirt, and wide brown belt.  I needed a tube of red paint.  I stopped in an art supply store.  The clerk, a cute bearded young man came round to help.  At the register, he flirted.  I was down the street to the corner of Michigan Ave.  when I heard him yelling.  I turned around and he was running towards me, apron in hand.  He had cut work to follow me.  He asked where I was off to, and if he could walk me there.  I told him fine, and that I was on my way to a matinee down the street.  At another corner further on, he popped into a convenience store and bought us both bottles of juice – apple — without prompting.  We sat on the grass across from the theater, talking, and drank them.  I asked him why he had followed me.  He shrugged and told me quite simply, “because I thought you were beautiful”.  No one had ever said that to me before.  I laughed, eyeing him sideways, wondering if he was as sincere as he seemed, or playing a good come-on.  He asked for my number.  I said no.  He gave me his.  We parted, I went to the movies.  He went back to work.  I never saw him again.

I can still recall many details of that event.  Everyone should have a random stranger tell him or her they are beautiful.

I look back at photos of myself from that time and shake my head.  Do we ever know who we are when we are young?  I see the fit, long haired young woman who was worrying everyday about what she was going to do with herself.  I knew I was not as pretty, smart, funny, or worldly as so many of my friends and acquaintances.  What I failed to see was what I was, instead of all the things I was not.

Romantic events should, I think, be those unexpected times when we are raised above the mundane routines of our lives.  Those times when life becomes crystallized, even for only a moment, and we feel truly alive.  We associate the sexual so closely with the notion of romance, to the detriment of romance.  They are not interchangeable themes, but do often overlap. 

One of my greatest fears is succumbing in old age to dementia of some sort.  I do not ever want to forget so many things, especially the romantic events of my life.  Just recalling them helps me have perspective, and laugh. 

2009 has started as the year not many of us can seem to catch a break.  In times like these, I think knowing we have well and truly lived with hope and honorability matters.  May you remember random moments of romance.   May we all have more someday.