Grim's Grub: A candy we love to hate
A redeeming look at a candy that's the butt of everybody's jokes
I must admit I laughed myself silly when I first saw comedian Lewis Black's somewhat raunchy comedy special on TV years ago.
Black has a long rant about candy corn and how disappointing it was when his mother gave it to him as a child, and how he is regularly disappointed when he forgets each year and tries a piece only to be reminded.
Black's bit jokingly claims that every piece of candy corn was made in 1911, and every year the candy company sends people out to collect it from the trash, wash it and sell it again next fall. It's still one of my favorite jokes by him.
While I have always shown scorn for the old candy corn, recent developments make me think it has a purpose, and that purpose is surprisingly tasty.
But let's get down to brass tacks and the history of the candy everyone loves to hate.
Black joked that candy corn was originally made in 1911, when in fact it's even older. Its origin dates to the 1880s. This confection came from a popular candy type called mellowcreme. This sugary, frosting-like stuff was versatile.
It was white, so it could be dyed any color you liked. It could be molded, so it could be any shape you liked. The flavor was simple enough that in reality there isn't a lot to dislike about it, just as there might not be a lot to go crazy about.
We often associate candy corn with Halloween, but when these candies were first invented, it was more about harvest. There were chestnuts, turnips and other agricultural products.
Likely the only other one remembered by confectionery aficionados today is the mellowcreme pumpkin, which tastes like candy corn, but is pumpkin shaped. The candies were meant to relate to farmers, perhaps the most populous workforce in the nation at that time.
George Renninger is, traditionally, hailed as the inventor of candy corn. Renninger was an employee at Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia, the first big company to sell these candies that were made in wooden molds. The molds were dusted with cornstarch to allow the candies to release after they hardened.
For each color, a batch of hot, liquid sugar, corn syrup, starch and other ingredients (called slurry) were made. The molds were filled one color layer at a time with the colored tip (white) at the bottom, the orange center next and the yellow at the end.
Other vegetables would likewise be mixed and filled. Mellowcreme pumpkins started with the green stem, followed by the orange fruit.
It took Renninger and Wunderle to bring candy corn to life, but it took the Goelitz Confectionery Company to trick everyone into thinking it was good. Goelitz marketed it as "chicken feed" when they began producing it in 1898. History.com says at this time, before World War I, most Americans still looked down on corn as not being "people food."
This was tied to agriculture. Though the Americas were where corn originated from the ancient grass teosinthe, for much of United States history the only cultivars available to grow were closer to what we know today as field corn.
This firm, starchy and barely sweet product was good for processed products like starch, meal, oils and syrups, but as a vegetable it fell flat.
It wasn't until 1950 that University of Illinois botany professor John Laughnan came up with the first super sweet corn varieties from which we now get canned corn and corn on the cob. Without that development, the concept of corn, made of candy or not, screamed animal feed.
So Goelitz leaned into that for their marketing. Their advertisements for traditional candy corn and seasonal varieties featured a large rooster.
It became a popular penny candy, like many other famous Halloween favorites, including Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, once known as penny cups, which are bafflingly the third most popular Halloween candy today. Snickers comes in first and candy corn, somehow, in second place.
The truth of the matter is that neither candy corn nor peanut butter cups or any other candy was really "Halloween" candy at that time, as the candy collection part of Halloween didn't come about until the 1930s or 1940s.
Before then, candy corn was as popular during Thanksgiving and Easter as any other time of the year. It became an official Halloween candy in the 1950s due purely to marketing surrounding the holiday.
Today, more than 17,000 tons of candy corn are produced each year, an estimated 9 billion kernels.
Buster's S'more Bear Mix
- 1 part Teddy Grahams
- 1 part dark chocolate chips or chunks
- 1 part candy corn
Combine all ingredients and enjoy. A big shoutout goes to 4-year-old Gus for inventing this one.
Salted Nut Roll Mix
- 1 1/2 parts dry roasted, salted peanuts
- 1 part candy corn
Combine the ingredients and enjoy.
Birthday Cake Mix
- 1 part larger hard candy birthday cake sprinkles
- 1 1/2 parts candy corn
- 2 parts mini Nilla Wafers
Combine all ingredients and enjoy.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.