Archive for the ‘Food History’ Category

The Popcorn Machine

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In the news today, I read that federal agents were arresting Mexican immigrants in sanctuary cities. It reminded me of my own experience with Mexican immigrants about a year ago. This is it: Last year, I decided we would make fresh popcorn at True Treats, my candy store. It seemed a natural fit: like candy, popcorn is associated with good times – movie theaters, carnivals, state fairs. In fact, the early popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretors and showcased at the illustrious Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. What could be better? The attempt didn’t go as well as expected:…

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Norbert Rillieux: All the Sugar that You Eat and a Bizarre Twist

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If you like sweets, eat sweets, or give gifts of made sugar, you have Norbert Rillieux to thank. His story is remarkable and his legacy regarding cane sugar in specific and sugar in general is profound.  He was born in 1806; his mother was a free woman of color, and his father, Vincent Rillieux, a European American plantation owner and inventor. At that time, 25 percent of African Americans in New Orleans were free and mixed couples often raised families together. Rillieux was a precocious student – so precocious his father sent him to the famous l’École Centrale in Paris…

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Valentine’s Day: Why Hearts?

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So, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and you might be wondering what’s with the cupids and hearts. Excellent question and the answers are many…or none, depending. The origin of the heart, for example, is said to have evolved from the ancient and now extinct plant silphium, used in the fifth century by Romans as a spice and birth control measure – application method unknown.  The plant’s seed pod apparently was heart-shaped. Others claim the heart appeared as a sexual symbol in art around 1250, looking much like an inverted pine cone, while still others say it was an ancient depiction of…

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Nutmeg: Sure, A Flavoring in Candy but an Aphrodisiac and So Much More

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If you’re searching for an effective yet tasty aphrodisiac look no further than your local grocery store. The solution comes bundled up in the pit of a more-or-less remarkable spice humbly referred to as “nutmeg.” For thousands of years, the nutmeg has been used to inspire love and lust – even its name derives from the Arabic word “mesk,” or “musky,” as in fragrance.  Today, Americans enjoy nutmeg to limited degrees – in hot cider and apple pie, for example, unaware of the sultry – and dangerous – spice that it is. But First… Nutmeg: The Early Years Even the…

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Art Candy: From Candy Bowls to Christmas Candy

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When I think of candy and the idea of giving, I think of the candy bowls grandmothers of a certain generation left out for their children and grandchildren. These women grew up during the Depression and wars when sugar shortages were common and sweets hard to find. Once sugar was available they filled their bowls to the brim with brightly colored sweets, as ornamental as delicious. It’s no surprise some of these candies became standard Christmas fare, such as the art candy, ribbon candy, and candy straws. Of all these candies, the art candy is the most impressive, in my…

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Sweets Under Seige: Revolutionary War

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Here’s a picture of my handsome husband over there in Afghanistan. The USO gives a little levity to folks like him with shows and, yes, candy, upholding a tradition that started with the Revolutionary War. I send Dan chocolate covered espresso and bourbon balls among the books and aspirins.  My packages are always followed by an e-mail that exclaims: Got IT!  Then a blow-by-blow of what he ate first. So, why not explore what the troops have enjoyed since way back when starting with the Revolutionary War. The soldiers back then had an unpredictable assortment of food, sometimes nothing, sometimes…

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The First Pop and Blam of Bubblegum!

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When you think of bubblegum, I’ll bet 10,000 gum balls the Fleer brothers don’t enter your mind. But the Fleer brothers started it all. The story begins when Philadelphia native Frank Fleer, born in 1860, joined and later took over his father-in-law’s flavor extracts company. Fleer was in good company: his father-in-law was a Quaker, one of the oldest, most influential, and ethical players in candy history. Within five years Fleer began making chewing gum, some of which he sold in vending machines in the lobby of buildings. One of the Fleer company’s most impressive accomplishments was created by Frank’s…

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The Guy Who Invented Chewing Gum – A Life of Many Firsts

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John Bacon Curtis was the one who started it all – he ushered in the world of chewing gum, bringing the nation a new pastime and treat. In the process, he ignited many other firsts, most so commonplace we forget anyone could be first to do them. Curtis was born in Hampden Maine in 1827. He went to common school for a few years then left to help bring in money for his family. He worked as a farmhand and later a “swamper,” clearing the underbrush and forests to make way for roads. At that time, the Native Americans of…

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So Much Resin, So Much Time: The First Chewing Gums Ever

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Throughout history, people have chewed tree resins: they were the first and longest-standing chewing gum, appreciated for their flavor and medicinal and health value. Amazingly, the shift from gum as a natural resin to a popular industrial wonder spanned a mere 75 years – a fraction of a hiccup in time. Here are some of the originals: Birch: The oldest chewing gum in the world was found by British archeology students on a volunteer dig in Finland. There, they discovered a clump of birch-bark tar, complete with teeth marks. Finish archeologist Sami Viljamaa says the chunk is between 5,500 and…

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Ancient Confections: The Secret to Harmony? Who Says?

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Who knew that two ancient confectionery ingredients could provide evidence that 1. two starkly different cultures could come together in a perfect union; 2.opposites can find perfect balance when brought together; and 3. at least men and women really can co-exist no matter what the sitcoms say. We discovered this symbolically (and tastefully) with two new products we introduced at the shop. One involves the cacao nib – the  essence of chocolate in its rawest, most naked form. At the risk of sounding sexist, the cacao is male in nature – the taste is deep, rich and complicated and the…

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